Summit County completes landmark deal to protect 1,125 acres of open land near Heeney from development |

Summit County completes landmark deal to protect 1,125 acres of open land near Heeney from development

Brian Lorch, Director of Summit County Open Space and Trails, tours the Knorr Lakeside Ranch property next to the Green Mountain Reservoir Wednesday, Aug. 15, near Heeney. The county worked to conserve 1,125 acres of the ranch bordering the Arapaho National Forest.
Hugh Carey /

On the western shore of the Green Mountain Reservoir, with sagebrush and sweeping mountain valley vistas as far as the eye can see, the Knorr Lakeside Ranch is one of the last jewels of the old West left standing in Summit County.

It is no wonder that land developers have been hungrily eying the 1,123-acre parcel since it was put up for sale this spring. Thanks to a complex series of land deals, the county and neighboring landowners will preserve the land and its amazing view corridors in perpetuity, all while keeping commercial development out.

The Knorr ranch, located near the northern tip of the county and south of Heeney, was one of the largest remaining unencumbered private land holdings in Summit. The Knorrs have continually owned and ranched the land next to the Blue River since they set up their homestead there in the late 1800s. The family later moved their home up the shore when the dam and reservoir were built in the ’40s. For the past few decades, the Knorrs and the county have been talking about how to keep the land open and free of development.

However, the ranching business is tough, and the sixth generation of the Knorr family put the land up for sale this past spring for around $8 million. Had it been sold to private developers, the Knorr family heritage and the land’s cultural and natural value would have been bulldozed for 64 home sites and a golf course.

Two neighboring landowners, Sean Flanigan and Doug Childs, were alarmed when they saw the for-sale signs pop up around the ranch. They worked with the Knorrs and the county over the past few months to protect the property from development. After extensive negotiations, the Knorrs sold the land to Flanigan and Childs at a discounted price of $7 million with a $1.6 million contribution from the county. The new owners then dedicated a conservation easement across the entire property in perpetuity.

The easement ensures that the land will be preserved only for ranching or conservation purposes. Summit County subsequently purchased 505 acres of the encumbered land at a steeply discounted $1.2 million, as the easement put a huge dent in the market price. Flanigan will retain 513 acres and Childs will retain 105 acres for ranching use.

The county is leasing its 505 acres to Flanigan Land and Cattle for ranching until it loses its agricultural value, at which point it may be turned into public land for recreation. Local real estate agent and neighboring landowner Tim Casey facilitated the transaction and donated half his commission to ensure the deal went through.

Aside from the views, the easement also protects critical senior water rights tied to the land. Parts of the land act as natural aquifers and drainage points that provide water for wetlands, surrounding forestland and local wildlife.

Open Space & Trails director Brian Lorch said the land was “an incredibly important piece of the puzzle” in keeping contiguous open space in the county, ensuring that Summit remains a mostly open and wild frontier on this side of the Continental Divide. Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s Habitat Protection Program also provided a $10,000 grant for the project as the land is valuable grazing land for mule deer, elk and other wildlife. An active bald eagle nest is also located near the site, where three eaglets recently hatched.

Karen Knorr, the great-granddaughter of the original Knorr homesteaders, said that preserving the land was a “hard-won victory” for her family.

“I’m thankful to my neighbors for panicking so much that they put big money down,” Knorr said to a smatter of laughter from the gathered crowd of partners who had invested a lot of time and brainpower to broker the deal. “It’s uncommon for public and private to work so diligently together. The decisions were hard, but we are so thankful to be able to retain parts of the ranch in our family ownership, and thankful that the land will stay open, hopefully forever.”

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