Category: In The News

In The News

Pastures of James Ranch to remain undeveloped ‘forever’

Durango Herald 04/19/2016

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.”

Cows grazing on the new James Ranch Conservation Easement

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.”

The ranch,
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.”

Read the article HERE

In The News

Efforts to bring Lake Nighthorse water to the thirsty…

Durango Herald, 04/16/2016

Pipeline to bid; construction on horizon

After years of planning, a key constituent to water security in southwest La Plata County is on its way.

A 4.6-mile pipeline that will carry water from Lake Nighthorse to Lake Durango went to bid March 31, and construction is expected to start within a month.

“That side of the county really needs help, and that’s what La Plata West is going to do,” said Mardi Gebhardt, a La Plata West Water Authority board member. “Lake Durango is going to be our partner in treating the raw water.”

A 30-inch line will extend from Nighthorse’s north shore, cutting through Bureau of Reclamation land and private property along Wildcat Ridge to a booster pump station. There, an 8-inch line will make a right angle west, running parallel to Wildcat Canyon Road (County Road 141) before winding north to Lake Durango.

Tap fees and a Colorado Water Conservation Board grant will finance the $3.4 million project, which is a collaborative between Lake Durango Water Authority, La Plata West Water Authority and the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes.

Charlie Smith, general manager of Lake Durango Water Authority, said more than 100 customers are on the waiting list for taps.

“For our service area, this is enough to meet the demands and future demands in the system,” Smith said, referring to the many customers hauling water. The authority can pump 400 gallons per minute, depending on demand.

Early projections anticipated the project would be complete by the end of 2015, but as Smith said, “there’s time, and there’s water time.”

A pending final environmental assessment from the Bureau of Reclamation and negotiations with 16 property owners abutting the project is a large part of that.


The pipe will boost the reserves of Lake Durango, which supplies water to the Durango West I and II, Shenandoah, Rafter J and Trapper’s Crossing communities.

Not all negotiations with property owners are final, but the project is on track, and parties are committed to preserving critical wildlife habitat.

Amy Schwarzbach, executive director of the La Plata Open Space Conservancy, has helped property owners negotiate three conservation easements abutting the pipeline’s alignment.

“Those lands along U.S. Highway 160 and adjacent to Lake Durango have a lot of conservation value,” she said. “When construction projects take place, especially on the Dryside, my biggest concern is the conservation easements to protect wildlife habitat and scenic open space. By developing on those properties, even though the pipeline will be buried, it can still have an impact on those natural resources.”

Schwarzbach advocated throughout the planning process for measures to keep trenches from becoming erosive, prevent noxious weeds such as Tamarisk from spreading, and avoid tree felling to maintain bald eagle nesting sites.

The pipeline is the first mechanism that will pump water out of Lake Nighthorse and a first step to fulfilling a grander scheme to supply water, particularly to the tribes, which have the largest claims to Nighthorse water.

The agreement among the four stakeholders allows the Ute Mountain Utes to come back at a later time and extend the pipeline. Peter Ortega, legal counsel for the Ute Mountain Utes, said the pipeline is the first phase of moving water to where the tribe really needs it.

“We hope it eventually will reach the western edge of the reservation,” Ortega said. “It’s moving water slowly in our direction.”

Read the full article HERE

In The News

Tax break could encourage land conservation

Durango Herald, 12/31/2015

Congress makes permanent incentives for conservation easements

Landowners promise an unchanging, open landscape when they place a conservation easement on their property, and now, in return, Congress has guaranteed them the assurance of an annual tax break.

On Dec. 18, Congress showed an uncharacteristic 318-109 bipartisan vote that makes tax incentives for conservation easement donations permanent, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2015.

A conservation easement covenant, also known as a land trust, was enacted in 2006 to encourage landowners to protect important natural or historic properties from development by offering a state and federal tax advantage.

In exchange, current and future landowners whose property qualifies enter a permanent agreement restricting development, thereby saving important sites from condominiums or other high-density growth.

Since 2006, Congress has voted every year to reinstate the tax incentive, creating uncertainty whether property owners who donate their land for the public good would continue to benefit from the covenant.

“You change the value of your land (by placing a conservation easement), and you’re making a forever promise that can be very scary if year after year you don’t know what the financial benefit will be,” Schawarzbach said.

“This (vote) means it’s there, and it’s there to stay.”

Schawarzbach said some land owners are approached by developers with very enticing offers. But some of those lands are scenic vistas enjoyed by the public or are critical areas for water quality. The land trust is another conservation tool landowners can use to reduce taxes on the property, while at the same time, ensuring the land is protected forever.

Durango residents may not notice the landmark sites safe from development because of conservation easements. But most Durangoans enjoy those places everyday: Horse Gulch, Dalla and Overend Mountain Park, as well as Oxbow Park and Turtle Lake.

In all, La Plata Open Space Conservancy holds 20,000 acres across seven counties in Southwest Colorado and New Mexico, and helped other similar groups protect another 10,000 acres. And it has been a busy time for the conservancy, Schawarzbach said, with 37 landowners contacting it in 2014 interested in preserving their property.

“It really is a game- changer for a lot of landowners,” she said. “When you sit down with your family and talk about leaving a legacy: (a conservation easement) protects what is often the greatest asset a Colorado resident can have and saves it for your own family and community.”

Read the full article HERE

In The News

Couple restores mining-era boardinghouse outside Silverton

Durango Herald, 10/7/2015 

Couple restores mining-era boardinghouse outside Silverton

Dr. Bob Brokering always wanted a little log cabin in the woods, so when his wife was in Europe, he bought one.

Only it wasn’t little. It was the historic miners’ boarding house adjacent to the Animas River outside Silverton near Eureka – 11,000 square feet of uninsulated and unheated rooms, pack-rat nests, sagging ceilings and bedrooms with no interior doors. He loved it. For his wife, Terri, affection took a little longer.

Dr. Bob is a board-certified family physician and Terri a nurse. They’ve been a team for decades. So turning a three-story, unfinished, 1929 boardinghouse into one of the premiere settings for weddings, reunions and retreats on Colorado’s Western Slope took time. And money. And patience. And skill.

Courtesy of Andrew Guilliford

Dr. Bob has plenty of those attributes. How else do you get a drink named after you at Montanya Distillers Tasting Room in Silverton? Just sample “Dr. Bob’s Snake Oil.”

He’s proud of delivering “a few hundred” babies, and he worked as an emergency room physician in Glenwood Springs, Telluride, Delta, Rifle, Meeker and Kremmling. Dr. Bob admits he’s “taken out some bullets” and once was paid in mutton, but nothing in his medical practice prepared him for renovating a vintage boardinghouse.

While working on the project, including listing it on the National Register of Historic Places, Dr. Bob made time to open a Saturday medical clinic in Silverton. Because San Juan County and town had no physician, he volunteered. Occasionally, he was paid in doorknobs and antique cameras.

Making the structure habitable was a labor of love assisted in part by members of their Presbyterian church congregation from Glenwood Springs. Historian and archivist Nik Kendziorski of Fort Lewis College says Eureka Lodge is “one of the best-preserved and largest boardinghouses still standing in the San Juan Mountains.”

The views are magnificent. The property straddles the Animas River and steep slopes nearby include Eureka Mountain (12,929 feet) and Niagara Peak (13,807 feet). The boardinghouse’s third floor is at exactly 10,000 feet.

Read the full article HERE.

In The News

Beer with character

Durango Herald, 08/08/2015

Beer with character

Ska Brewing Co. celebrates its 20th anniversary this weekend. This year’s sold-out anniversary party will feature The Denver Vintage Reggae Society, the Mad Caddies and Reel Big Fish. Proceeds from the event, which can add up to $5,000, will be donated to La Plata Open Space Conservancy, an environmental conservation nonprofit.

Read the full article HERE

In The News

Durango city boards OK closure of illegal mountain-bike trails

Durango Herald, 05/07/2015

Durango city boards OK closure of illegal mountain-bike trails

The Parks and Recreation and Natural Land Preservation advisory boards voted by an overwhelming majority to approve a natural-surface trails report that designates mountain-bike trails in City-owned conservation easements, Overend Mountain Park, Dalla Mountain Park and Horse Gulch, for closure and outlines some general plans for new trails.

Read the full article HERE.