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Chaffee County has 650 more acres of protected land with the closing of a conservation easement at Centerville Ranch.

Logo courtesy of Central Colorado Conservancy

The iconic meadow, which sits next to Browns Canyon National Monument with sweeping views of the Sawatch Range, was the subject of considerable angst in 2018, when developer Jeff Ince proposed to build lots throughout the 940-acre ranch.

Amid considerable citizen pushback to the plan, the developer adjusted his approach. Central Colorado Conservancy approached Ince to place a key portion of the ranch into a conservation easement. That project was completed in February 2022, meaning its historic use for cattle grazing, hay production, and wildlife habitat will continue into perpetuity.

The ranch is a notable feature of the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway, with lush pastureland on its west side and forest on the east.

The new 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 the acreage 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 feed during the winter.

Landowner Jeff Ince persevered through a complex, multi-year process to protect this ranch forever. Photo by Jan Wondra.

“For years I have watched that elk herd on the ranch and I am very happy to help protect their winter habitat,” Ince said. “I look forward to working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and other partners on the conservation project going forward.”

The ranch also provides habitat for several species of greatest conservation need including Golden Eagles, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Ferruginous Hawk.

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 a winter habitat for a large elk herd and was eager to work on this vital conservation project.

The local community was invested in the process, showing up in large numbers for public meetings and contributing $145,000 toward the project. “This is a wonderful example of the community’s dedication to the conservation of habitat, beloved vistas, and agricultural land,” said 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.”

The project was also funded with essential grants from multiple funders including Chaffee Common Ground, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Gates Family Foundation, Great Outdoors Colorado, and the Meta Alice Keith Bratten Foundation.

Featured image: A view toward the Collegiate Peaks from Centerville Ranch. AVV file photo