St. Jude’s Ranch in Pitkin County likely to remain development free |

St. Jude’s Ranch in Pitkin County likely to remain development free

A view of the St. Jude's Ranch near Basalt, which is likely to remain open space in perpetuity thanks to a proposed conservation easement.

Pitkin County open space officials have finalized a more than $5 million deal that will keep a large ranch on the edge of Basalt development free.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Dale Will, acquisition director for the county’s Open Space and Trails program. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Will, the former director of the open space program, said he’s been meeting with the Cerise family on and off for 15 years to try to get them to agree to a conservation easement on their 260-acre St. Jude’s Ranch. The family recently agreed to accept $5.2 million in exchange for the easement, he said.

Pitkin County commissioners are scheduled to consider and possibly approve the purchase at the board’s regular meeting Wednesday.

The easement essentially extinguishes all development rights on the ranch while allowing the Cerise family to continue ranch operations.

“It’s a wonderful option for the family,” Will said. “They get an infusion of capita … and they get to keep the ranch.”

Marilyn Cerise said the family is happy the land will remain undeveloped.

“It is our heartfelt desire to pass on the land as we received it,” she said in a prepared statement.

The only development on the parcel will be allowed on a 15-acre envelope, where the Cerise family will be allowed a total of six houses, Will said. Three houses now exist in that area, and the development envelope cannot be subdivided or sold separately from the ranch, he said.

“This is just an area for the Cerise family to live when they’re working on the ranch,” Will said, noting that the housing area cannot be seen from the Rio Grande Trail.

The ranch is important because it is bounded by Basalt High School, Light Hill, the Roaring Fork Club and the Roaring Fork River, according to a statement from the open space program. The easement, therefore, means Basalt will have a permanent urban boundary protecting surrounding farmland, according to Will and the open space statement.

Also, the Rio Grande Trail runs directly through the ranch. The open space on either side of the trail will remain free of development thanks to the easement, Will said.

“I think most people will tell you they’d much rather ride through open space than a subdivision,” he said.

In addition to that recreation benefit, the ranch is “extremely scenic” and provides not only wildlife habitat but will continue to be worked as agricultural land, Will said. All of those things are goals of the open space program.

“(The Cerise family keeps) that place immaculate,” Will said. “From an agricultural point of view, it’s priceless.”

The ranch was originally purchased in 1904 by Reno Cerise’s grandfather, according to the statement. The family is from the Aosta region of Northern Italy, where many other Roaring Fork Valley agrarian families also hailed from, the release states.

The fifth generation of the Cerise family is just taking over the ranch now and runs a cow-calf operation, according to Will and the open space statement.

The county’s open space program also protects other nearby farmland acquired from other Aostan families, including the Glassier and Grange families.

“The nearby Grace-Shehi and Emma Open spaces both border the Grange Ranch, helping provide a continuous urban buffer stretching upvalley from Emma,” according to the open space statement.

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