Book Release: “Toponas Cabin Journals”

George and Ruth Krauss have made a lot of memories at their 156-acre property in an untamed stretch of Routt County just east of Toponas.

They bought the land from a rancher in 1977 and built a cabin on it in the early 1980s.  Ever since, it has served as the Krauss family’s high-country retreat: a place to immerse themselves in nature, recharge the batteries and appreciate the simple things in life.  They completed an easement with YVLT in the year 2000, ensuring that the property’s striking open scenery and important wildlife habitat on the edge of the Routt National Forest would be protected in perpetuity.

Hot off the printing press,  George and Ruth just released a book titled “Toponas Cabin Journals” documenting their family’s experiences at the conserved property.  The book was compiled from 12 volumes of hand-written journal entries covering a period of over 30 years, providing a deeply personal and heartfelt look into their daily lives.  It also includes a special section featuring the family’s favorite recipes for cabin meals.

To commemorate YVLT’s deep ties to the property, George and Ruth honored YVLT with a copy of Toponas Cabin Journals at the book launch party. 

To purchase a copy of your own, contact (303) 674-0670 or P.O. Box 244, Toponas, CO 80479.

 

Butterflies and a Walk Through Time at YVLT’s Rehder Ranch

Game cameras at the Rehder Ranch Nature Preserve reveal that it is a sanctuary for deer, elk, bears, and even wild turkeys.  What these motion-activated cameras don’t capture is that it is also home to a wide range of insects, which thrive in this secluded  draw along Harrison Creek in Pleasant Valley. 

The abundance of butterflies on the property sparked the interest of CMC’s John Saunders, who led an educational tour at the Rehder Ranch in July to search for these colorful arthropods.

The butterflies took flight as the powerful summer sun began to cut through the chilly morning air.  Visitors discovered an assortment of fritillaries (orange, below), cloudless sulfurs, and tiger swallowtails.

Following John’s tour, YVLT was joined by Kathy Cline and Arianthe Stettner of Historic Routt County to share their knowledge about the Rehder family and the property’s historical significance.  Kathy and Arianthe discussed the property’s homestead heritage, the challenges early settlers faced in Routt County, and Helen and Henry Rehder’s hard-working lives on the ranch.  Thank you John, Kathy, Arianthe, and all that joined YVLT at the Render Ranch Nature Preserve!

Read more about the Rehder Ranch here.

YVLT’s Community Ag Alliance Column in the Steamboat Pilot & Today

Yampa Valley Land Trust wrote a guest column in the Steamboat Pilot & Today last week about Routt County’s open land legacy and how a local funding source for conservation easements has forever changed the face of the Yampa River Valley.

Read the online edition here or the extended version below.


Open lands forever – together

Open space has always been a defining feature of Routt County – one of its core attributes that is embedded in our identity, culture, and outdoor lifestyle. 

It’s the first thing that greets us as we crest Rabbit Ears Pass, instantly shaping our perceptions of the area before an abrupt 2,500-foot descent to the valley floor below. 

The wealth of open land here is easy to take for granted, but Yampa Valley Land Trust and other conservation groups have spent decades working to keep this characteristic tethered to Northwest Colorado.

We urge you to take a step back and remember how Routt County has held onto its distinctive rural character – and a moment to reflect upon what it might look like now if our community had followed a different path 20 years ago.

The open landscapes we still enjoy today are the byproduct of a collaborative conservation movement that gained traction in the 1990s.  It took a herculean effort among land trusts, public and private landowners, and Routt County citizens who sought to preserve the elements that make this area so unique: its scenic vistas, pristine watersheds, open agricultural lands, proximity to outdoor recreation, and an abundance of critically-important wildlife habitat. 

While it’s not necessarily obvious at first glance, if you dig beneath the surface you may notice the profound impact land conservation has made throughout our valley.  The results are all around us, from isolated dirt roads to Routt County’s primary travel arteries.

You can get a firsthand look at these conservation efforts starting at the foot of the Sleeping Giant north to Hahn’s Peak, where YVLT has permanently protected more than 8,800 acres in the Elk River Valley.  Conservation projects line both sides of Highway 131 from Oak Creek to Yampa, where rolling pastures and hay meadows dominate the scenery all the way to the foothills of the Flat Tops.  Or follow County Road 14 past Stagecoach State Park and you will see five consecutive miles of the Yampa River conserved by YVLT, gluing together the riparian landscape and preserving downstream water quality.

All of this was possible because of a decision Routt County voters made over 20 years ago to maintain open space using a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program; a revolutionary concept that was among the first of its kind in Colorado.

Routt County PDR began with a vision to protect large tracts of open land using a local funding source to incentivize conservation.  The program compensates willing landowners for voluntarily limiting the development potential of their properties by way of conservation easements.  Land trusts like YVLT then “hold” the conservation easements and steward the protected lands in perpetuity.

This unique conservation tool gave ranchers and other individuals with significant land holdings a viable alternative to subdividing or selling their properties altogether, keeping open lands intact and sustaining the important natural functions these lands provide.

The PDR program is supported by a 1.5 mill property tax (one “mill” is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value).   Routt County voters approved the program in 1996 and reaffirmed their commitment to open lands in 2005, renewing it for another two decades through 2025.

Over 50,000 acres have been permanently protected using PDR funds – that’s about 46 square miles, or roughly 4.5 times the size of the City of Steamboat Springs.  The availability of PDR and other funding mechanisms positioned YVLT to conserve over 30,000 acres throughout Routt County, along with nearly 15 miles of the Yampa River to date.

Credit is also due to other conservation organizations working in the area, including The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Colorado Open Lands.  With the aid of PDR funding, YVLT and other land trusts are steadily building toward a critical mass of conserved land in Routt County; helping to ensure that open landscapes always remain a quintessential part of the Yampa Valley experience.

Most importantly, credit is due to the great people of Routt County, who have expressed unwavering support for conservation and the protection of open lands through the voter-approved PDR program.  This circles back to our motto at Yampa Valley Land Trust: “Open lands forever – together.”

That said, there is still much work to be done in order to realize a better future for the Yampa River Valley.  YVLT can’t do it without your support.  Will you join us in leaving a conservation legacy in Northwest Colorado?

Bryce Hinchman is a Conservation Associate at Yampa Valley Land Trust, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit land conservation organization based in Steamboat Springs.

YVLT Featured as Guest Columnist in Steamboat Pilot & Today

Community Ag Alliance: Working agricultural lands essential for quality of life

April 5, 2018 — Steamboat Pilot & Today

Routt County’s agricultural lands have changed a lot during the past 100 years. Look back at old photographs, and you’ll see scattered farmhouses and barns with expansive hay meadows and vast open rangeland. Talk with a Routt County rancher whose roots date back to the homestead days, and they’ll tell you how the county’s landscape looked much different then.

Today, you can still find many of those same hay meadows still in production, some of which can be credited to the Yampa Valley Land Trust’s 26 years of work, with more than 30,000 acres of agricultural lands conserved in Routt County alone. But ranch operations as a whole are generally becoming smaller and fewer. While much of the acreage that has been sold off for another purpose still incorporates an agricultural component, it has resulted in a very different business model for most ranchers from what existed only 30 years ago.

There are various reasons for the general decline in number of agricultural operations and the changes necessary to maintain a viable operation today in Routt County and across the West. We won’t get into analyzing them. But, if you get the opportunity, we suggest having a conversation with one of Routt County’s life-long ranchers to hear their view.

The trend of fewer and smaller working ranches is not all that different from what other western communities that were established from agricultural roots have experienced in that timeframe. However, Routt County is unique in its efforts to keep working agricultural landscapes in our community — for what they contribute to our local economy and to the quality of life we enjoy.

Multiple community surveys have indicated that preserving open, scenic and natural landscapes associated with working agricultural lands are of the highest importance to residents of Routt County. The local economy, to some extent, relies on our western image derived from our working agricultural landscapes. And certainly not least, our agricultural producers rely on these lands for income and a way of life.
 

Routt County has a robust group of local organizations dedicated to preserving its working agricultural landscapes and western rural heritage. YVLT is among them.

YVLT works with agricultural operators who view conservation easements as a tool to help keep working ranches viable for future generations. Through conservation easements, landowners have the opportunity to be compensated for relinquishing some or all of their development rights — a viable alternative to selling the land. This benefits the landowner as well as the entire community as open space, scenic and productive agricultural lands have proven integral to preserving the quality of life in Routt County.
 

YVLT is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to preserve the western rural character of Northwest Colorado for the benefit of its communities and future generations. We could not accomplish our work without community support and generous donors who value what we do. If you would like to learn more about YVLT’s work, visit yvlt.org.

Ryan Gelling is a Conservation Associate at the Yampa Valley Land Trust.

YVLT was honored to author the Community Agriculture column in the Steamboat Pilot & Today — click here to read the online edition.