Three ranches, three futures |

Three ranches, three futures

Scott Condon/The Aspen TimesAn investment group is exploring the purchase of the Hunt Ranch, which includes the barn built in 1913, in Missouri Heights.

Three ranches, three counties, three very different development scenarios – all within one valley.In a microcosm of what’s going on throughout Colorado and the rest of the West, three of the last real cattle ranches in the midvalley are headed toward conversion into luxury subdivisions.The ranches are located within about 12 miles of one another, as the crow flies, but the geopolitical oddities of the Roaring Fork Valley place them in three different jurisdictions.Because of that, they will end up looking vastly different.The Hunt Ranch in Missouri Heights went under contract recently to a small investment group scouting the Roaring Fork Valley. It was snatched within just a couple of months of going on the market. The bucolic ranch’s setting – with great views of Mount Sopris – is part of its appeal, but its location in Garfield County is also a plus for buyers. Land-use regulations there are more lax than in Pitkin or Eagle counties. Garfield County’s land-use master plan would allow development of up to 94 home sites on the 565 acres.”We’re not sure what we’re going to do yet,” said Michele Kister, a real estate agent with Mason and Morse who’s working with the group with a contract to buy Hunt Ranch. “These guys are very interested in maintaining what the West has to offer.”

In this case, Kister said, that means open space, broad vistas and agricultural lands rather than a golf course. In general terms, clustering or some other development pattern will be looked at to preserve the open pastures on the ranch, she said.Whatever happens, it inevitably means change to some degree for one of the oldest ranches on Missouri Heights. The land was homesteaded around the turn of the 20th century by Pat and Margaret McNulty, according to Anita McCune Witt’s book, “They Came From Missouri, The History of Missouri Heights, Colorado.”The ranch really took shape when Oscar Clagett, a physician from Missouri, bought 360 acres from the McNultys and resettled his family, Witt wrote. He built a house and barn on the ranch that still stand today. A potato cellar and other agriculture buildings also date from the settlement of the ranch, according to Witt.After farming for a couple of years, Clagett decided to resume medical practice in Rifle, so he sold the 360 acres in 1918 to members of the Fender family. It was in their hands until a sale in 1964, Witt’s research showed. Dick Hunt bought the 360 acres in 1967, added acres and has operated the cattle ranch since. He put it on the market for $8.75 million.Kister said the prospective buyers don’t have a specific time frame in mind for development. Somesee Ranches on page A7observers were impressed that representatives of the development group attended the Aspen Valley Land Trust’s “Land Dance,” a fund-raiser for its land conservation efforts, last Saturday. The event was held on the Strang Ranch, adjacent to the Hunt Ranch.Kister said the buyers are interested in meeting soon with neighbors, who have been concerned about the potential sale, and outline their preliminary plans.

“We understand some people aren’t going to be on board,” she said.While the potential for 94 homes on six-acre lots has got some people in Missouri Heights concerned, 12 miles away in Pitkin County the potential development of seven homes on the 567-acre Fender Ranch is raising protests among some members of the Emma Caucus.Developer Tom Waldeck told the caucus this week that he has part of the Fender’s ranch under contract. He wants to redevelop two existing home sites and add five. The market will likely dictate that homes of between 5,000 and 6,000 square feet will be built, he said.In contrast to Garfield County, Pitkin County has strict land-use regulations. Theoretically one home could be developed per 35 acres on the Fender Ranch. But steep slopes, wildlife habitat and other conditions significantly reduce the development potential.Waldeck is working with the caucus and the county to form some type of development plan.Waldeck is also busy in another corner of Emma. He has a contract to buy 135 acres of cattle grazing land and hay pasture along Hooks Lane from the Conrad Cerise family.That old ranch skirts the Pitkin-Eagle County line. Waldeck is proposing seven homes in the Eagle County portion and two in Pitkin County.

The proposal for nine homes on 135 acres of the Cerise Ranch is significantly more dense than Waldeck’s proposal for Fender Ranch although they are located within three miles of one another.The Roaring Fork Regional Valley Planning Commission is scheduled to review the application Sept. 22 at the community center in El Jebel.While nearly all the working cattle ranches are gone in the Roaring Fork Valley, sales are just heating up in many parts of the state.About 80 percent of all private lands in Colorado are held by ranchers and farmers, according to a study by the Colorado Conservation Trust, a group promoting preservation of open space. About half of those ranchers and farmers are at or nearing retirement age.”This demographic factor, combined with other economic and environmental factors facing farmers and ranchers, increases the likelihood of farm and ranch sales and sets the stage for a significant shift in Colorado’s landscape,” the study said.In Pitkin County, about 4,120 acres was anticipated to be developed between 2000 and 2030. The figure was slightly higher in Eagle County over that same time. In Garfield County, the figure was 18,660.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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