A cloud of ignorance over Cozy Point | AspenTimes.com

A cloud of ignorance over Cozy Point

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It’s been going on for decades — people minding other people’s business who think they have all the answers. For umpteen years, I’ve listened to folks who have little or no knowledge of my business tell me how to better raise cattle, irrigate or how to be more productive with my trash-collection routes. They generally have no idea what they’re talking about.

The other Aspen paper had a front-page article Jan. 17 about the Cozy Point Ranch, an arm-breaking, self-congratulatory rant by some about how the place could be so much more than it is. Reporter Collin Szewczyk caught my attention by saying there were “experts in the ranching and sustainable agriculture fields” sitting in with members of the city’s Open Space and Trails Board at a meeting sometime the previous week. I read the article twice and failed to see any “experts” quoted or even mentioned, with the possible exceptions of Eden Vardy or Jason Smith.

There was, however, an array of adjective-hurling, feel-good thoughts tossed out on how great the place could be, but how to get there was more than a little fuzzy. Improving the place is admirable in the staunchest of ranching traditions, but the tone of the article left more than a few Aspen residents with a feeling of ugliness over the attitude of the city’s Open Space and Trails Board, particularly the comments of Jeff Woods, a borderline ultracrepidarian and manager of the city’s Parks Department.

In this region, the words ranching and farming have always been used interchangeably, for a ranch was also a farm and vice versa. Crops grown were hay, potatoes, grain, corn, orchards of varying variety, and believe it or not, soybeans. Ranches and farms had huge gardens, capable of growing commercial quantities of organic vegetables and fruits, interspersed with flowers and decorative vines. Livestock groups raised were cattle, sheep, horses, pigs and mink as well as free-roaming chickens, turkeys and other small creatures.

From 1910 through the 1950s, garden and other produce from the Roaring Fork Valley, particularly Woody Creek, always brought a few more cents at national markets, even as far away as New York City, because the lush produce was just a bit more flavorful, more firm and always looked better. Cozy Point Ranch was one of those ranches/farms, owned in those days by True Smith.

To say that the Cozy Point land is degraded because of ranching is to totally ignore the strong history of ranching and farming in the Roaring Fork Valley, which I have tried to outline above. Just because you work for the government or other nonprofits doesn’t give you the option of making up history and facts as you go along. Further, people eat meat, so cattle ranching and hay production are just as viable and sustainable as raising fruits and vegetables.

Clearly, Woods and the other city advisers don’t have an original idea, and in their enthusiasm for improving Cozy Point, they have insulted a sizeable portion of the valley by making unthinking statements based on cloudy partisanship rather than fact.

A previous owner of Cozy Point, a city man murdered in Aspen a few years ago, refused to acknowledge the importance of irrigation or any other agricultural management practices in keeping the land up and was not averse to selling or giving away Cozy Point water rights to non-ranching interests. That might have been the beginning of degradation, but it wasn’t ranching.

If we think back, under the city’s control of the property, a large portion of the Cozy Point Ranch along Brush Creek was used to park cars during the X Games. They did this for years, and although it was winter, plowing the snow away for automobiles and a continual flow of buses in and out all day long, hurt the land more than any other activity might.

The enthusiasm Woods and the others have displayed toward improving Cozy Point is commendable, but they need to gain a more profound understanding of history and what ranching and farming is all about before they so erroneously denigrate the very foundation of the Roaring Fork Valley.

Monroe Summers, the man last charged with management of Cozy Point, took the land he received in an abused condition and brought it up to good agricultural standards. In fact, he spent a good sum of his life savings on rehabilitating Cozy Point Ranch, welcomed Eden Vardy and Aspen T.R.E.E. into the fold and left a work in progress unfinished by his untimely death.

It was all uphill for Monroe as the city made him do it without the now-promised $150,000 seed money to get started, and in addition to requiring him to pay his own way, they wanted a percentage of his earnings. To disrespect the untiring work of rancher Monroe Summers is to bring down shame on the Open Space and Trails Board, the city of Aspen and the City Parks Department.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.