In early 2022, 650 acres of the historic Centerville Ranch in the heart of Chaffee County were protected forever through a conservation easement agreement between the landowner and Central Colorado Conservancy.
Anyone who’s traveled along the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway between Buena Vista and Salida knows this land well. It sits in the valley between magnificent fourteeners on one side and Browns Canyon National Monument on the other—comprised largely of rolling pasture lands, grasslands and forests just east of the highway.
Central Colorado Conservancy has been working closely with the landowner and concerned community members on this complex project since 2018. A Chaffee Common Ground investment in 2019 helped fund protection on the ranch, where livestock roam alongside wildlife.
The property is leased to a local rancher for cattle grazing and hay production, but there’s a great deal more happening on this land, according to the Conservancy. The conservation easement protects the irrigated pasture and hay meadow as well as piñon-juniper forest, upland grasslands and a cottonwood grove. A unique wetland on the ranch is the source of Rawhide Creek, which meanders through rock spires and cottonwood trees on its way to Browns Canyon.
A diversity of ecosystems across these hundreds of acres provides important habitat for wildlife. Bear are frequently seen traveling the piñon hills and riparian pathways. Elk and deer especially depend on the ranch for shelter and food during the winter.
“For years I have watched that elk herd on the ranch and I am very happy to help protect their winter habitat,” said landowner Jeff Ince. “I look forward to working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and other partners on the conservation project going forward.”
A conservation project with incredible support and participation from the local community
Centerville Ranch landowner and developer Jeff Ince initially submitted a plan to the county to develop residential lots on the entire 940-acre ranch. Community members expressed concern about the future of the valley, eager for an alternative.
The Conservancy approached Mr. Ince and negotiated a bargain-sale purchase to create a conservation easement on 650 acres of the heart of the property. Ince especially recognized the importance of the ranch as winter habitat for a large elk herd and was eager to work on this vital conservation project.
The local community was engaged and invested throughout the process. Community members attended important meetings and made a case for the land. Individuals and small businesses came together to contribute over $145,000 to help protect this historic ranch property.
“This is a wonderful example of the community’s dedication to the conservation of habitat, beloved vistas and agricultural land,” commented Lucy Waldo, who managed the project for the Conservancy.
“Landowner Jeff Ince persevered through a complex, multi-year process to protect this ranch forever,” said Waldo. “The local community and several funders contributed the necessary funding to make this project happen. This collaboration and participation is something to celebrate!”
In addition to Common Ground, the project was funded with essential grants from multiple entities including Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Gates Family Foundation, Great Outdoors Colorado and the Meta Alice Keith Bratten Foundation.
The Conservancy is responsible for annual monitoring and collaborating with current and future landowners to support ongoing land stewardship. Future plans include a scenic pull-off on the property, situated to minimize disturbance to wildlife while allowing visitors to safely stop and take photographs. A wildlife crossing under Highway 285 is also anticipated.