Ownership of a Steamboat Springs ranch can bring the owner back in history, as it is a direct reflection of the area’s rich ranching heritage.  While Steamboat Springs may be more internationally renowned for being “Ski Town USA,” the city’s character is defined as much by its being a ranching center as it is by its being a resort town.  In fact, it is this mix of cattle ranching roots and international vacation destination status that makes Steamboat Springs stand out from the crowd.  Here, where Stetsons are as ubiquitous as ski helmets and the terrain is as diverse as it is beautiful, your options for enjoying the outdoors are virtually endless.

Ranch Considerations
In the world of real estate investment, especially in ski areas, it is rare to have as much land available for private ownership and enjoyment so close to a major resort as there is in Steamboat Springs.  Owning a spread in the Yampa Valley grants the owner a unique lifestyle many desire but only few possess. Imagine having the ability to raise livestock and crops, ski cross-country, snowmobile, snowshoe, ride horseback, mountain bike, hike, four wheel, fish and hunt all within the privacy of your own family sanctuary – which also just happens to be only a few minutes away from a world class ski resort!

Nestled in a setting of unsurpassed beauty, Steamboat ranches range in size from 10 to 35-acre ranchettes to several thousand-acre estates - all within a short drive of town.  Some are nestled alongside the Routt National Forest, Flattop Mountains, Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area or Bureau of Land Management property, giving the owner a bonus of additional access to thousands of acres of public recreation and majestic mountain vistas. It’s not surprising, then, that these properties remain among the most sought-after real estate in the USA.

Cattle were first introduced into the Yampa Valley in 1871, and sheep arrived in the 1890’s.  The approximately 500 ranches that now dot the Routt County landscape take advantage of the rich high country soils for hay, alfalfa, wheat, oat and barley production.  Although the high altitude creates a short growing season, it produces high quality hay that is shipped to equestrian facilities throughout the country.

If you’re a horse lover, there is no better location for an equestrian estate.  A variety of options are available, from a couple of acres in the country to a sprawling residence complete with a barn, outdoor and indoor riding arenas, a workshop, a tack room, a wash stall, corrals and even caretaker quarters.  Finding a trail to ride or even someone to ride with is not difficult as a number of subdivisions have trail systems already in place for owners.

Ranch Types
Depending upon the buyer’s needs, ranches can be categorized as either true working ranches or gentleman ranches.  Working ranches are typically greater than 35 acres in size and owners are able to generate a substantial amount of income from the property.  Gentleman ranches are smaller in size and are more for hobby use with a limited amount of livestock.  Ranches can be further categorized as either lying within a subdivision, where certain covenants and restrictions were established by the original developer to maintain a certain character to the project, or, a ranch could have been created without any such restrictions.  There are benefits and shortcomings with each.  One of the biggest advantages with buying into a ranch subdivision with covenants is the quality of the neighboring ranches will be consistent.  Covenants usually prohibit ranches turning into unsightly junk yards and also have noise considerations.  One of the more popular types of ranch subdivisions is the Land Preservation Subdivision.

Land Preservation Subdivisions
Land Preservations Subdivisions, or ‘LPS’ was created by county planners in 1995 to assist in protecting the area’s dwindling ranch lands by fostering continued agricultural land uses and maintaining Routt County’s rural character and open space.  Since adopted, more than a dozen LPS projects have been approved.  As opposed to dividing land into 35 acre homesteads, the LPS encourages the clustering of homes in smaller, privately-held parcels, and then holding the remaining open land in common with all landowners.  The home-to-land ratio remains the same (1:35), but, due to clustering, provides greater open space and less overall land impact from the concentration of roads and services. Developers may earn additional density credits for their plan, allowing a slight density increase.

Although the LPS code is specific to rural land development, the character of each community is quite diverse.  Creek Ranch, southwest of Steamboat, has maintained its working ranch heritage with its active cattle and hay production, while Catamount Ranch has a Tom Weiskopf signature golf course and other recreational facilities.  The Alpine Ranch LPS, immediately east of Steamboat Springs, and Marabou LPS about 6 miles west of town were released in 2006 and provide an exceptional variety of services and amenities, including ranch guest houses and horse boarding facilities.  While ownership is of a specific home site, a substantially greater amount of acreage is available for all owners to enjoy hiking, fishing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing or horseback riding than a typical 35 acre lot would allow.

Water & Water Rights
In Colorado, the water of every natural stream, including groundwater tributaries, belongs to the state.  However, it is available for beneficial use of its citizens by applying for a decree (i.e., a water right) from the water court.  Landowners with property next to streams do not have the right to divert water without a water right decree from the water court.  There are three basic types of decrees: 1) Surface water (springs & streams); 2) storage rights (ponds and reservoirs); and 3) underground rights (wells).  Buyers should always retain the services of a water right expert (attorney) to research and confirm what water rights run with the land and to ensure they will be transferred with the property at closing.

The following are the most common type of well permits, and the ranch owner needs to know what type goes with the property:

Household use only Wells – Issued for ordinary household uses in one single family dwelling and does not allow for outside water or livestock watering.

Domestic and Livestock Wells – Issued for tracts of land of 35 acres or more where the well will be the only well on the tract, or on tracts of land less than 35 acres in limited areas of the state where the surface drainage system is not over appropriated.  Water can be used to irrigate one acre or less of lawn and garden, and provide water for the individual’s domestic animals and livestock.

Livestock Capacity
There is a considerable difference in the amount of precipitation the various corners of Routt County receive.  Generally speaking, the further west one goes, the more arid the climate.  This then equates to forage production for different non-irrigated pastures.  Dryland pastures typically range from 300 - 2,000 pounds per acre. Irrigated pastures range from 2,000 - 6,000 pounds per acre.  A 1,000 pound Routt County cow needs 1.5 (or almost 2) acres per month of dryland or 3/4 acre of irrigated pasture.  Horses need the same amount.

Vast, naturally spectacular and affordable land is still available in Steamboat Springs.  For those seeking a Steamboat Springs Ranch, the rewards are immeasurable.  These purchases can either be facilitated by traditional means, or possibly by 1031 exchanges, trades or conservation easements.  Having an experienced Exclusive Buyer’s Agent to guide you through the process is essential.  I’ve assisted many clients who possess a desire to have such a rewarding lifestyle and would be happy to help you find yours!