1,200 Acres of Wet Mt. Valley Protected (CO)

Westcliffe, CO, 6/26/03 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL) today announced it has acquired a conservation easement on 1,200 acres of the Rusk Hereford Ranch in the scenic Wet Mountain Valley, 80 miles southwest of Colorado Springs.

The acquisition is the first step in a larger effort by TPL and its partners, including the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund (GOCO), to conserve more than 10,000 acres in the valley’s northern end by the middle of 2004. Later this year, TPL and its project partners intend to explore a similarly ambitious conservation program with ranchers operating in the southern end of the Wet Mountain Valley. Conservation easements are valuable tools to preserve the natural and scenic values of ranches and farms while also providing landowners with an alternative to subdividing their properties and selling off all or portions as smaller “ranchettes.”

The Rusk Hereford Ranch is located about three miles northwest of Westcliffe. The Wet Mountain Valley lies at the heart of Custer County’s ranching industry, which increasingly is feeling pressures from population growth and land subdivision. On a per capita basis, Custer County, which grew by 82 percent in the 1990s, is one of the fastest -growing counties in the West.

The acquisition was made possible through grants to TPL from GOCO lottery funds, the Colorado Conservation Trust, and the Gates Family Foundation.

Harvey Rusk and his wife Jean, both in their eighties, have owned the ranch since 1946, when Harvey returned from military service in Germany during World War II. They operate the ranch to this day with help from their son, Randy, who also manages ranch operations for neighboring properties on which TPL holds options to purchase conservation easements.

“We’ve been working on this conservation easement for almost three years,” said Randy Rusk. “While it’s taken a great deal of time, in the end, it’s been worth it because it will help to ensure the future of this ranch and ranching in general in Custer County. We’re grateful to TPL, GOCO, the Gates Family Foundation, the Colorado Conservation Trust, and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust for helping to turn this idea into reality.”

Doug Robotham, director of TPL’s Colorado office, said, “We cannot overstate the important role played by the Rusk family on this project. We’d have never gotten the early commitments from our partners if it weren’t for the significant commitment made by the Rusk family.”

“This is the first big, concrete step toward protecting this valley from a fate that’s befallen other Colorado ranching valleys,” explained Robotham. “Our objectives, and those of our partners , are to preserve the agricultural character and use of this land by keeping large tracts in the hands of ranching families like the Rusks, and by heading off further subdivision and development that threaten the incredible scenic and natural resources of this valley.”

John Hereford, GOCO’s director, said, “The Wet Mountain Valley represents one of the last intact high mountain ranching valleys left in Colorado. The Rusk family has been an ideal partner in GOCO’s efforts to protect this scenic and magnificent valley for generations to come.”

The easement on the Rusk Hereford Ranch will be held by the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT). Jay Fletcher, chairman of the CCALT board of directors, said, “We were very pleased to be asked to be part of this effort. The Wet Mountain Valley Ranchland Preservation Program is an important addition to the vital work to conserve ranchland around the country.”

In addition to TPL, the Cattlemen’s Land Trust, and funders, the Wet Mountain Valley Ranchland Preservation Partners include the Custer County Heritage Committee the San Isabel Foundation, The Sonoran Institute, and local landowners.

The Trust for Public Land, a national non-profit organization, conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since, 1972, TPL has protected more than 1.5 million acres nationwide with a value of more than $2 billion. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and businesses to achieve our mission. In Colorado, TPL has protected 70,000 acres of the state’s most treasured parks, open space, farms and ranches and wildlands.