Family Places final conservation easement on James Ranch
The James Ranch has become an iconic landmark in Durango, known for its lush pastures and fresh food. And now, the deeply rooted family has taken steps to ensure the bulk of the 420-acre property will remain that way for generations.
Recently, the Jameses placed a fourth and final parcel of their land in the north Animas Valley into a conservation easement, which secures limited development and a dedication to agricultural use for what the family says is “forever.”
It was a decision the 22-member family unanimously made almost a decade ago.
“It became very, very clear to all of us that this piece of land was precious to us and to the community and that we do not want to have it developed,” said Kay James, who purchased the land with her husband, David, in 1961.
“Now it’s always going to be agricultural land. That’s it.”
Started in the state of Colorado in the late 1990s, the conservation easement program is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and a land trust government that holds permanent restrictions on development in turn for tax incentives.
Amy Schwarzbach, executive director of La Plata Open Space Conservancy, said not every property owner who applies for the easement is granted the designation. The land must hold significance to the community, she said.
“If there’s one resource that Durango has really realized we cherish, it’s the Animas River,” she said. “And that particular property is along the Animas River corridor, and it’s also in full view of the San Juan Scenic Byway.
“So it is a huge asset to keep that rural, pastoral, open space that people come here for.”
over the years, has been threatened by high-density development, James said. And now the conservation easement, at least, puts some of those worries to rest.
In the mid-2000s, the family, questioning what the ranch should look like in the next hundred years, again came to an undivided consensus: The land should never be sold off and developed. The Jameses left a small parcel not under a conservation easement to leave open options that otherwise would be restricted by the designation.
“It brings me peace of mind that we’ve all come to that decision together,” Ott said. “And it’s a guarantee for our future kids to have a beautiful place to farm and live on. And for the community to have open space.”
Already, the next generation of Jameses is brimming with ideas for the land. Ott’s son, Gunther, 23, runs the pastured pig operation, and her other son, Abe, 19, is excited for what the future holds.
“What we have here is so unique,” he said. “Knowing that it’s going to be here forever is awesome.”
Kay James, 75, said she never thought when she and David purchased the land in an estate sale all those years ago, nearly all their children would return and work the land.
“We are just so grateful to all of the people who helped along the way,” she said. “The love of this valley and this land is in our hearts. We see ourselves as stewards of the land, to preserve it and enrich it.”