The Routt County Board of Commissioners could decide July 12 to approve funding of a conservation easement covering the final 363 acres of a centennial cattle ranch just 2.5 miles outside the southern city limits of Steamboat Springs.
The commissioners are scheduled to consider a pending agreement among ranch owners Jim and Jo Stanko, the Routt County Purchase of Development Rights program and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust.
The voter-approved PDR program would provide $705,000 in public property tax dollars as a match for the landowners` contribution of $925,000, which is based on the land’s appraised value. The PDR monies would include $30,000 to cover closing costs.
The 656.2-acre ranch is on Routt County Road 33 and stretches from the north bank of the Yampa River, south over uplands to Cow Creek.
“The benefit to us is to maintain the ranch and be able to pass it along to our family,” Jo Stanko said. “The ultimate goal is that it always remain in open space and agriculture, whatever agriculture becomes in the future. It was our plan from way back in (1999-2000) when we put the first easement on the ranch.”
Funding for the county’s PDR program comes from 1.5 mills of voter-approved property taxes that were last renewed in 2006. The PDR program is intended to give landowners an economically attractive alternative to selling land for development by instead compensating them for the development rights they agree to put under a conservation easement. By giving up those future development rights, the owners typically donate more than half of the appraised value of the land.
Peter Stanko, Sr., the grandfather of Jo Stanko’s husband, Jim, came to the Yampa Valley Walsenburg in 1907 and acquired his ranch from Logan Crawford, a member of Steamboat Springs’ founding family.
The ranch was officially designated a Colorado Centennial Farm by the State Historical Fund in 2007. The Stanko family was also the recipient of Colorado’s Aldo Leopold Conservation Award in 2010 for their commitment to conservation.
Jo Stanko said she and her husband have consistently engaged in the “ranching for conservation” program led by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, which entails re-planting meadows for the benefit of pronghorns to butterflies (as well as for cattle), attaching chains to tractors to startle ground birds out of the way and installing ladders to ensure birds can get out of stock watering tanks.
They have reserved a 5-acre home site and 50 acres around the homestead headquarters, Stanko said, where they have reserved the right to build two residences and two smaller bunkhouse-style structures to enable the goals of their son Patrick and his wife, Jan, to someday provide a place where families of children with special needs could come in the future to experience ranch life.