Golf course splits ranch family

  • Cows graze near one of the first houses built on the Gray Ranch

    Cindy Wehling
 

Note: this feature article is one of several in a special issue about growth and planning in the West.

CARBONDALE, Colo. - Disagreements about how to plan for growth have reached into a ranching family here.

"I'm retiring anyway, and ... you can't divide land equitably (among the heirs), but you can divide cash," says Bob Perry, who with his wife, Ruth, owns the Sopris Ranch outside of town.

The Perrys have signed a contract to sell 125 of their 400 irrigated acres to a California developer who wants to build a golf course. The development would also feature 685 housing units and completely take over the adjacent Gray Ranch, which the Perrys now lease for grazing.

"If you're going to live in a pretty place, you're going to have people," says Ruth Perry, whose family first brought cows to the Sopris Ranch in 1929. "We've had over 50 years of ranching here, and a wonderful golf course would be a nice addition to the town."

Marge Perry, Bob's and Ruth's daughter, has a different vision for the family ranch and other historical ranches in the area - keeping the land intact in large pieces through deals with governments or conservation trusts preserving open space.

A golf course, says Marge Perry, is "a ridiculous waste of space." Rather than just give in to development pressures, she believes, "You can do your best to slow the growth down."

Agricultural land around here once produced beef and potatoes for local coal miners. Now, with Aspen a half-hour drive away, land is a luxury selling for $15,000 an acre on up.

"The nicest thing would be to maintain the traditional use as a working cattle ranch," says Lew Ron Thompson, who was born on the Gray Ranch but sold out to an investor. "It's not economically sound to run an $800 cow and a $400 calf on $15,000-per-acre land."

The Gray Ranch golf course development, along with three other proposed developments, would more than double the population of this town of 3,100. Town Planner Mark Chain opposed the Gray Ranch golf course, but the developer, Bob Howard of San Francisco, Calif., lined up four of the town's six trustees in support, seemingly guaranteeing the $27 million project will break ground next spring.

Bob Perry says he'd rather see a golf course than more dense development on the ranchland (the Gray Ranch property was zoned for nearly twice as many houses as Howard proposes to build). The golf course, Bob Perry says, will be a practical version of open space and will perserve some of the rural feel.

Bob Perry says one reason he agreed to sell was the threat of stringent zoning regulations such as those already in place in Aspen's Pitkin County. That might lock up his property and decrease its value, he says. "You can't stop growth unless you take away property rights."

The younger generation is split, with Marge Perry's six brothers and sisters supporting their parents' decision to sell off some of the family ranch to the developer, and Marge and her husband, Bill Fales, opposing the sale and trying to keep their 260-acre ranch viable. "The golf course is like a gas can thrown on the explosive growth in the valley," Fales told the town trustees. Fales predicts that the golf course will only spur already increasing land values and taxes and force ranchers out even faster.

Last spring Fales lured Stephen Small, a tax lawyer from Boston who wrote both the U.S. tax law on easements and the book Preserving Family Lands, to deliver a talk to the Holy Cross Cattleman's Association near Carbondale.

Small told the ranchers that he understood they don't like to be told what to do with their land. "But if you care about your land you have to do some planning," Small said. "Landowners put easements on their land for three reasons. They love their land, they love their land, and they love their land."

Bob Perry, who attended Small's talk, says he might consider placing some of his land in an easement, but he remains skeptical. "I don't see the easement man knocking on the door with a check."

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Forever Our Rivers Foundation is searching for a driven and creative leader to build a movement, conserving and restoring America's rivers by helping customers find...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa is hiring a Deputy Director/COO who will have the overall responsibilities of general program management, staff management, financial & budget management,...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...