Summit County protects agricultural history with Doig Homestead purchase
October 19, 2016
Summit County's latest open space addition was on full display Wednesday, with a group of around 25 braving the cool temperatures and fresh snow on the ground to take a field trip to the recent $2 million purchase.
The 273-acre Doig Homestead off Heeney Road sits along State Highway 9, 20 miles north of Silverthorne's North Pond Park, where participants met during the morning to caravan over. For almost two decades, the county had been in pursuit of the active hay and cattle ranch abutted by U.S. Forest Service land located at the foot of Green Mountain Reservoir. The idea was to preserve its century-old historical value and distinct makeup as critical wildlife habitat by preventing potential development of the property by a private buyer.
"It has been a priority for a long time to protect agricultural heritage of the Lower Blue (Basin) and the open space character," said Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. "I do think a lot of its iconic landscapes and vistas are really important to protect, and everybody gets to enjoy that whether they step foot on the property or not."
Voters provide the county's Open Space and Trails Department approximately $1.25 million in property taxes annually for such acquisitions, so ponying up three quarters of a million more to pull off the sale meant dipping into reserves. But the county felt it couldn't let the property — one that Open Space director Brian Lorch called "the newest jewel in the county's crown" — get away, particularly with an original asking price of $3.5 million by the Knorr family who has lived on and worked the ranch for four generations. When the cost dropped in August after remaining on the market for approaching five years, the county jumped at the chance before the new listing price could go public.
While perhaps not the type of purchase local citizens may be used to out of the open space budget — for now the property is closed from public access — land in the Lower Blue is usually prized for reasons outside of the notable recreational investments made in other parts of the county. The department uses seven criteria when reviewing properties, and the Doig Homestead meets several of those due to its unique mix of wildlife and wetlands, agricultural and cultural heritage, and its view corridors and connection to existing public lands.
"The large majority of purchases, many in the Upper Blue, do have recreation and/or access as a primary criteria," said Lorch. "In the Lower Blue, it's the other way around. It's just kind of different priorities in the different valleys because of where the people live and where people are already recreating and where there are already trails and roads. Most of the ranchlands have not been open to the public, so we're trying to maintain that character."
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The property, which was originally settled by Dave Doig in 1898, includes a small log cabin where he lived until it eventually burned down. The structure was rebuilt and the interior still has modern conveniences strewn about from more recent use by the Knorrs. In addition, the purchase comes with water rights of about 8.5 cfs (cubic feet per second) in the Lillian Ditch as diverted from nearby Black Creek. The homestead's proximity to water is a prominent reason why elk, deer and eagles are commonly found there.
Being nearly equidistant between Kremmling and Dillon, for many years the ranch acted as a stagecoach stop as well. A large rock at the ranch's entry acts as the prior marker of the "20-mile house," speaking more fully to its historic place in the community.
"The fact that it was the working ranch dating back so many years makes it a good opportunity to highlight that history," said Stiegelmeier. "Summit County had mining going on in Breckenridge, but ranching was actually the bigger and more centralized activity and where development was, because it was a little more sustainable than mining."
To make up for some of the substantial cost, the county applied for $675,000 in retroactive GOCO (Great Outdoors Colorado) grant funding earlier this month to afford the expansive parcel with considerable aspen groves and scenic rolling hills. The county should hear back in December on that state funding supplied through lottery proceeds in part to shelter important open spaces.
The property will remain leased to the Knorrs for cattle and hay production through 2017, and could very well be used for agricultural purposes beyond that as well. The county's open space staff plans to develop a management plan this winter, and murmurs can already be heard about what kind of future general access may be appropriate and how that might be managed, given the continued emphasis of protecting it as wildlife habitat.
"Never's a long time," said Lorch. "I foresee public access at some point in time."