A Change of Hands: Longtime Owl Creek Ranch manager hands reins to son
Over the past 30 years, not much has changed on Owl Creek Ranch.
Property owners have come and gone and more modern homes have been built, but the ranching lifestyle on the hundreds of acres between Snowmass and Aspen for Jim Snyder, Owl Creek Ranch manager, has remained relatively the same.
“It’s pretty much the same place I walked onto over 30 years ago,” Snyder said.
But now, after decades of looking after horses, hay fields and working with the ranch’s many and multiple owners, Snyder is experiencing a big change. The longtime Snowmass local is transitioning out of his ranch management role and moving out of Owl Creek as his youngest son, Josh, moves in to take the reins.
“When Josh and I talked about it, he said he’d like to move into my position,” Jim said. “It’s just harder and harder for me to do things like pick up 80-pound bales of hay all winter and it’s time to pass it on to somebody with a stronger back. … I’m just glad Josh is the one that’s going to be here.”
On a recent afternoon in the ranch common area where a cluster of beige buildings with hay, horse stables, a workshop and the Snyder’s home sits, Jim and Josh talked about life on Owl Creek Ranch.
It started when Jim, a Pennsylvania-native accustomed to ranch life, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1977 in search of better skiing and rodeo opportunities.
After running a large cattle ranch in Rifle for five years, the ranch owner decided to give his operation up, leaving Jim, whose oldest son was just a baby, jobless.
The Rifle ranch owner promised to help Jim find another position, and a few phone calls later landed him the gig as manager of Owl Creek Ranch.
From taking his sons out on the tractor to harrow the fields when they were young kids, to feeding horses, irrigating the pastures and hand mending fence with Josh as an adult, Jim made Owl Creek Ranch his family’s home from the start.
He said he’s done his best over the years to keep the ranch in good shape, do what he can to make the 10 current owners happy, address the constant fencing and water issues and work well with horse boarders.
Jim also said, despite only having a few conflicts with owners over his 30 years running the ranch, he felt this year was the year to start transitioning out of his management position.
“It’s a hard thing to walk away from. … I would be really disappointed if I was leaving here to never come back,” Jim said. “Knowing Josh is going to be here makes it a lot better.”
According to Josh, who was born in Glenwood Springs but has spent the majority of his life on Owl Creek Ranch, transitioning into his dad’s role has been his goal for a long time.
“I’ve been working on and off here my whole life really,” Josh said. “It’s so nice to be able to work outside every day, spend my time on four wheelers, moving water, messing around with horses. I like animals a lot and just the whole lifestyle of living on the ranch.”
Josh said he plans to run the ranch in a similar fashion as his dad since it’s worked well for so long, focusing on keeping up with projects like fence mending.
“You’ve got to put in a lot of man hours and sweat into making the place look nice and it’s always been my goal to make it look as nice as it can be,” Jim said.
Over the next three years, Josh and Jim will continue to work together on the ranch but with reversed roles. Josh will oversee the bulk of the day-to-day management and billing, and he and his girlfriend are in the process of moving their horses, chickens, ducks and goats from Silt to Owl Creek.
“He’s gotta know the game, the politics of it,” Jim said of the management transition. “You have to always be one step ahead of the people you work for or you have issues. That’s something I try to always do, to get something done before it’s ever mentioned to me.”
Jim will assist Josh as needed four to five days a week, commuting from his new home in New Castle. He is in the process of moving out of Owl Creek, where he’s added to collections of everything from horses, saddles and wagons, to arrowheads, clocks and toy sewing machines over the years with the help of area locals.
Both Snyders also plan to continue tying ropes for local area kids every year for the Aspen Historical Society in Ashcroft together, and volunteering for the Snowmass Rodeo every Wednesday evening over the summer.
“Josh and I have always worked together and we work together really well,” Jim said. “I think we’ll just keep knocking out the same projects that need to be knocked out every year.”
For both men, Owl Creek Ranch is the source of a lot of stories, and has served not only as a place to work and live but a place to grow as people.
Josh said he feels growing up on the ranch has given him the skills, work ethic and respect needed to succeed as an adult, and Jim feels that while raising a family on the ranch wasn’t always easy, it taught him a lot and introduced him to many of his closest friends.
“There are so many stories and so many neat people who have lived here. Some I’d call my very close friends and would do anything I could for them,” Jim said. “I’ve been very, very fortunate to have spent 30 years here. It’s been a dream job.”
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