The South Fork of the White River meanders through the Stillwater Valley nourishing eight miles of lush riparian vegetation, meadows and forests within the YZ Ranch. As a result of the extraordinary leadership and commitment made by Ross Wheeler and his family, this 5,280-acre ranch is now protected in a conservation easement held by Yampa Valley Land Trust.
Wildlife is abundant and the incredibly scenic views of the pastoral valley and surrounding forest lands are commanding. These exceptional features will remain a legacy of the White River Valley as an outcome of the Wheelers’ easement on this signature landscape.
The YZ Ranch is nestled in the Stillwater Valley and is surrounded on three sides by White River National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands. Additionally, the Ranch is proximate to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. Approximately 12 miles of the South Fork of the White River thread this 5,280-acre property which is operated primarily for hay production. The grazing of livestock is carefully balanced in the overall management of the YZ Ranch to ensure protection of sensitive riparian areas and other outstanding wildlife habitat.
The Wheeler Family’s exemplary land stewardship and management of the YZ Ranch has been and remains a key factor in maintaining the high ecological and scenic values of the property. The Colorado Natural Heritage Program (CNHP), a sponsored program of Colorado State University, identifies the YZ Ranch as one of the best managed agricultural properties in Colorado.
The YZ Ranch conservation easement protects a multitude of conservation values. Denise Culver, CNHP ecologist, cites that the YZ Ranch provides “a good example of an intact riparian wetland and a globally rare montane woodland plant association.” Additionally, the diverse terrain and vegetation of the property provides habitat for a variety of wildlife species including: elk, deer, bald eagles, osprey, other raptors, sandhill crane, songbirds, a variety of waterfowl, black bear, mountain lion and several fish species.
The YZ Ranch was assembled by California oilman Alphonzo Bell, Sr. in the 1920’s. The best known structure on the ranch known as the “Rock House” was constructed in 1930. After Bell, there were several owners before the ranch was purchased by Winston Wheeler and Lee Phillips late in 1954. The Wheeler Family purchased the Phillips’ interest in the Ranch in 2001.
“Four generations of our family have enjoyed and appreciated the Ranch. My sister and I have always hoped to keep the YZ Ranch intact and operating to preserve the open space and beauty of the South Fork Valley. The conservation easement assures this.” ~ Ross Wheeler