Pitco to preserve Harvey Ranch | AspenTimes.com

Pitco to preserve Harvey Ranch

Aspen-dotted hillsides above Snowmass Creek will be protected as open space thanks to a $3 million conservation easement deal. Photo courtesy Aspen Valley Land Trust.

Pitkin County will receive a $1 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to help secure a $3 million conservation easement preserving the Harvey Ranch above Snowmass Creek.The open-space award, announced Thursday, is among the largest ever allocated by GOCO, according to Chris Leding, communications director for the state initiative, funded in part by Colorado lottery proceeds. “It’s a very significant open-space grant,” she said.The Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Program, which will put $2 million into the purchase, secured a contract to buy the easement on 1,840 acres last fall. The Harvey Ranch lies on a broad bench above Snowmass Creek. Visible from the Snowmass Ski Area, it shares a border of more than three miles with the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

It is also contiguous to the Child Ranch, where the county last year secured a conservation easement on 1,480 acres for $3 million, to be purchased in two phases.Conservation of the two ranches is part of a larger goal to protect some 10,000 acres of contiguous agricultural open space in the Snowmass-Capitol Creek Valley, “at the doorstep to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness,” said Dale Will, executive director of Pitco Open Space and Trails.The county program and various conservation agencies have talked with the other two major landowners in the area, the St. Benedict’s Monastery and John McBride, Wills confirmed.McBride wrote a letter of support to the GOCO board for the Harvey easement purchase and indicated he’s interested in working with the county, Wills said.An appraisal indicated the Harvey Ranch is worth $20 million on the open market; Pitkin County was prepared to spend the entire $3 million to secure the easement if GOCO funding was not forthcoming, according to Wills.

“We were of course hopeful that they would do it,” he said. “Every penny we save on this purchase is money we have to spend on the next deal.”For landowner Connie Harvey, the free-market value of the ranch was less important than keeping the property in the family. Her six children want to retain the land, she said.”I have loved this ranch dearly for over 40 years,” Harvey said in a prepared statement.Connie and the late Harold Harvey acquired the ranch in 1962. It was originally homesteaded by the Hunter family in 1893; the Pierre Lakes in the nearby wilderness were named for Pierre Hunter. The Harvey family runs cattle on the land during the summer; there are currently 70 cows, each with calf, on the ranch, Harvey said.The conservation easement will allow the agricultural uses to continue and preserve the ranch’s value as wildlife habitat. The deal also carves out a half-dozen additional homesites on the property, along with the two residences that already exist. The arrangement provides substantial future value for the family in the six, two-acre building sites, Wills noted.

A conservation easement allows property to remain in private ownership, but sterilizes it from future development. The easement devalues the property, so the next generation of owners doesn’t face crippling inheritance taxes that could force them to sell out, explained Martha Cochran, executive director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust. Pitkin County and the AVLT will jointly hold the easement.”Connie’s is really one of the great working ranches in Pitkin County,” Cochran said. “It’s just a beautiful place. It’s exciting.”The GOCO board recognized the significance of the combined Harvey/Child easements, which protect 3,320 acres, and the potential to secure up to 10,000 acres in a resort area that faces significant development pressure, according to GOCO’s Leding.”Without protection, the Harvey Ranch will likely be cut into 61 ranchettes, and the resulting large-scale development will erode the conservation potential of other properties in the region and fragment critical wildlife corridors,” said Pitkin County in its GOCO application.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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