Who owns Colorado's big spreads: A look inside Colorado's largest ranches. (2023)

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KIP FORBES DRIVES HOME FROM HIS FAMILY'S NAMESAKE BUSINESS --FORBES magazine in Manhattan -- daydreaming all the while about hisColorado getaway

The 51-year-old middle child and his siblings are heir to theirfathers business empire, which includes the magazine and otherbusinesses, a Moroccan palace, an island in Fiji and the largestprivately held, contiguous stretch of land in Colorado, the ForbesTrinchera Ranch.

"It's a very special place that we are very privileged tobe the custodians of," Kip Forbes said. "It is definitely outof the ordinary; each property in its own way is like a Faberge egg.Each is very special."

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Ask anyone who owns a large parcel of land in Colorado -- evencorporate owners -- and they have a similar feeling about their slice ofthe state.

But with property values rising faster than anywhere in the nation,and development pressure coming from nearly every corner, hanging on tounbroken stretches of scenery in Colorado is getting more and moredifficult.

While most of the largest tracts are owned by the famously wealthylike Liberty Media's John Malone or the Forbes family, severalhundred of the state's largest private parcels are still in thehands of Colorado families that have held their ranch or farm for morethan 100 years.

At first glance, this doesn't seem like such a big deal. Afterall, who wouldn't want to hang on to a chunk of land withheart-stopping views in every direction and a wealth of recreation andcity conveniences just a few hours away?

But the problem is not a question of desire. It is more a matter ofneed.

On top of rising land prices come rising taxes, particularly estatetaxes, and according to several real estate agents throughout the state,any land in Colorado that isn't a vertical hillside is worth atleast $2,500 an acre. That means a 1,000-acre family farm -- a spreadbarely big enough to break even as an agricultural business and nearlyhopeless for raising cattle -- is worth about $2.5 million fordevelopment purposes.

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Estate taxes on that land can be $700,000 To a struggling farmerwith one nostril under water, a tax bill that size is enough to make himcry subdivision.

One answer to the tax question is to place a conservation easement on the land. The program allows landholders to restrict how theirproperty can be used, thereby reducing the value and the tax liability

An easement is held by an outside organization with an interest inmaintaining the land for agriculture or as open space, as opposed todeveloping the property The Colorado Cattleman's Association set upa separate organization just for this purpose called The ColoradoCattleman's Agricultural Land Trust. So far, about 48 members haveopted for an easement on all or part of their property

Despite the difficulties in maintaining large tracts of land foragriculture, there still are a respectable number of ranching andfarming families left in the state. According to Terry Fankhauser,executive vice president of the Cattleman's Association, it hasabout 2,500 members, with most actively raising cattle.

But besides cable-TV magnate John Malone's 270,000-acrecollection of cattle operations around the state (including the21,000-acre Greenland Ranch, which lies along Interstate 25 south ofCastle Rock), many of the largest landholders don't use theirproperty strictly for agricultural purposes

The biggest example of that is the Forbes' Trinchera.

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Lying about 20 miles west of Walsenburg, the 180,000-acre propertyincludes Mountain Home Reservoir, three 14,000-foot peaks -- Blanca,Little Bear and Mount Lindsey, which mark the northwestern border -- and13,500-foot Trinchera Peak, which is just inside the southeasternborder. At about 250 square miles, the property would encompass all ofColorado Springs and Pikes Peak.

"When the Forbes purchased each of these properties they wereextremely overgrazed," said Ty Ryland, 41, whose family has managedthe ranch since 1968 when Malcolm Forbes purchased it. "We'vebeen able to reduce the cattle and eliminate the domestic sheep.We've had success with returning native grasses and there is waterflowing where it wasn't in the 1970s."

Today the Forbes ranch takes part in the state's Ranching forWildlife program to help pay the bills. The Colorado Division ofWildlife guarantees hunting licenses to ranchers with at least 12,000contiguous acres who agree to maintain the land for indigenous wildlife.The licenses can be sold, mostly to out-of-state hunters who almostalways struggle to nab one of the limited state-issued permits, for farmore than what the state charges. Last year, 70 elk hunters paid $6,000each and 60 deer hunters paid $4,000 for guided hunting safaris on theForbes' massive playground.

The ranch also maintains a comfortable lodge and corporate retreatwhere guests pay $300 per night to hang out among giant models of steamships and sailing vessels, and photos of Malcolm Forbes grinning besidevarious world leaders, business executives and family members.

Forbes started acquiring the property in the late 1960s. By 1982 hehad purchased a total of 259,000 acres, more than the land area ofColorado Springs and Denver combined. Forbes planned to create a privatewildlife preserve, but the state attorney general nixed the plan when heruled that any animals on the property belong to the state. So in themid 1970s Forbes subdivided about 79,000 acres into individual homesites that sold for $5,000 to $7,500 per acre.

Kip Forbes, who of all his siblings is the most involved with theranch, said while there are no plans for future development, there alsoare no plans to place a conservation easement on the ranch.

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"For the time being having an unencumbered situation is betterfor us," he said. "We're always open, as things go alongand as the rules change -- the rules are always changing -- wewouldn't rule it out."

For some, a conservation easement is a primary tool in their landmanagement plan. One example is The Nature Conservancy

In January, The Conservancy announced it would buy the 97,000-acreBaca Ranch for $31.28 million, making it the Conservancy's mostexpensive acquisition ever in the Rocky Mountain region. The ranchborders the Great Sand Dunes National Monument in the San Luis Valley,and plans call for making the 151 square miles of landscape part of theNational Monument, and by 2005, establishing the area as Great SandDunes National Park. The Conservancy's motivation for acquiring theland is not just for its natural beauty but to preserve the water thatgeologists say is held in an aquifer hundreds of feet below the surface,which farmers from Colorado to Texas rely upon.

Regardless of the motivation for maintaining large tracts of land,whether it's a long-held family prize or a natural wonder,large-tract landowners in Colorado seem to be natural preservationists.While conservation easements are becoming more common, those landowners,like the Forbes who do without them, say preserving their land is worthmore to them than the price any development might bring.

1. FORBES TRINCHERA RANCHLOCATION NEAR FORT GARLAND IN COS- TILLA COUNTY, BISECTED BY HIGHWAY 160CURRENT OWNER FORBES FAMILYTOTAL ACRES 180,000CURRENT USES HUNTING, CORPORATE RE- TREATS, LOGGING, CATTLE RANCHING (LAND LEASED TO OTHER OPERATORS)LAND VALUE N/AThis is the largest privately held ranch in the state and ranges inelevation from 8,000 feet near the headquarters to 14,037 feet at thetop of Blanca Peak. It has been in the Forbes family since 1968.2. BACA RANCHLOCATION SAN LUIS VALLEYOWNER CABEZA DE VACA LAND & CATTLE CO.TOTAL ACRES 97,000GRAZING LEASES 25,000 ACRES LEASED BY BLM, THE STATE AND THE U.S. FOREST SERVICECURRENT USES HAY, GRAZINGLAND VALUE $31.28 MILLIONPart of the Baca Ranch is scheduled to became Great Sand Dunes NationalPark by 2005, provided Congress appropriates funding for it. Anotherpiece will become the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, and a third piecewill become part of the Rio Grande National Forest. At 151 square milesit is one of the largest contiguous ranches in the state and includes14,165-foot kit Carson Peak. It is the Nature Conservancy's mostexpensive potential acquisition in the Rocky Mountain West, although thedeal is not yet closed. It was granted to the Baca family of New Mexicoby the king o Spain in 1860 and purchased two years later by WilliamGilpin for $30,000.3. MEDANO-ZAPATA RANCHLOCATION SAN LUIS VALLEY, ALAMOSA COUNTY AND SOME IN SAGUACHE COUNTY, SOUTH OF THE SAND DUNESCURRENT OWNER THE NATURE CONSERVANCYTOTAL ACRES 100,000 (30,000 OWNED OUTRIGHT, 70,000 IN GRAZING LEASES)CURRENT USES OPEN SPACELAND VALUE $6.4 MILLIONThe Nature Conservancy purchased the two properties in 1999 and runs abed and breakfast at the ranch. A PGA golf course on the land is nolonger maintained, but the third largest herd of bison in the nationstill lives on the property.4. TAYLOR RANCHLOCATION SAN LUIS VALLEY, WEST OF THE SANGRE DE CRISTO MOUNTAINS AND SOUTH TO THE NEW MEXICO BORDERCURRENT OWNER LOU PAITOTAL ACRES 77,500GRAZING LEASES 0CURRENT USES RECREATION, HUNTINGLAND VALUE $23 MILLIONOwner Lou Pai is a former Enron executive.5. KIM RANCHLOCATION KIM, IN LAS ANIMAS COUNTYRANCH PRESIDENT GARY CAMPIONTOTAL ACRES 109,741CURRENT USES CATTLE, RANCHING FOR WILDLIFE PROGRAMLAND VALUE N/AKim Ranch is a conglamerate of properties held by serveral owners.6. SILVER SPUR RANCHESLOCATION WALDENCURRENT OWNER JOHN MALONETOTAL ACRES 110,957CURRENT USES CATTLE RANCHINGLAND VALUE $23 MILLIONSilver Spur Ranches runs adjacent to the Lone Pine, which combines fourseparate ranches covering 156 square miles, and includes three rivers,and 18 streams. Malone also owns the 100,000-acre Big Horn Ranch nearthe Lone Pine. He purchased that for $10.3 million from the estate ofA.D. Dais, founder of the Winn-Dixie super- market chain. These twomassive land holdings totalling more than 300 square miles, combinedwith a handful of smaller ranches, give Malone 270,000 acres. Maloneplaced conservation easements on much of the property, both for theirhuge tax benefits and to ensure the land can never the be developed. Heuses it to raise cattle.7. BIG GULCHLOCATION SEVEN MILES NORTH OF CRAIG ON BIG GULCH ROADRANCH MANAGER DON COOKTOTAL ACRES 120,000CURRENT USES CATTLE, RANCHING FOR WILDLIFE PROGRAMLAND VALUE N/ABig Gulch is a conglomerate of separate ranches participating in theRanching for Wildlife program.8. RIM ROCKLOCATION 70 MILES SOUTH OF LA JUNTA ON HIGHWAY 109OWNERS CASON MCCOY, JUNIOR LABRIER, DICK KENNEDY, RONALD RAN, JIMMY DOUGHERTYTOTAL ACRES 86,000CURRENT USES CATTLE, RANCHING FOR WILDLIFELAND VALUE N/ARim Rock is a conglomerate of ranches co-operating to participate in theRanching for Wildlife program. Ranch manager Mike Pearce said thelandowners handle the cattle operations while he manages the huntingbusiness.9. HILL RANCHLOCATION 18 MILES WEST OF TRINIDAD ON HIGHWAY 12OWNERS BOBBY AND DOTTIE HILLTOTAL ACRES 62,000CURRENT USES CATTLE, RANCHING FOR WILDLIE, METHANE GAS, TIMBER AND COALLAND VALUE N/AElevation at Hill Ranch ranges from 6,600 feet to 13,700 feet. About15.000 acres are under a conservation easement.10. GREENLAND RANCHLOCATION STRADDLING INTERSTATE 25 BETWEEN LARKSPUR AND THE EL PASO COUNTY LINE.OWNER HARMONY LAND & CATTLE LLC (JOHN AND LESLIE MALONE ARE LISTED AS MEMBERS OF THE LLC)TOTAL ACRES 21,000CURRENT USES OPEN SPACE, CATTLE RANCHLAND VALUE $70 MILLIONJohn Malone purchased the land from Ed Gaylord, owner o the BroadmoorHotel. Though this property is small compared with Malone's two ranchesnear Walden in northern Colorado, it is an important buffer againstdevelopment between Denver and Colorado Springs. Development rights werepurchased from Gaylord in a public/private deal mediated by the Coloradooffice of The Conservation Fund. The organization garnered funds fromthe the State of Colorado, GOCO, Douglas County and other sources. Theland east of 1-25 is the oldest working cattle ranch in the state, whilewest of 1-25 is open space used or recreation.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Wiesner Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.

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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.


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