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Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt and Paul Flack of Resource Based International will give an update on the Hill Ranch revegetation project near Nathrop at 10:00 a.m. Thursday, July 13 at the intersection of CR 280 and CR 281.

Hill Ranch. Image courtesy of Pueblo West

The Hill Ranch near Nathrop, Colo. in Chaffee County has been undergoing a large revegetation project for the past few years, to restore the property to native grass in order to establish a natural environment, preventing blowing dust, and controlling weeds in the future.

The saga of the Hill Ranch goes back way beyond the 1980s, but after the water rights associated with the Hill Ranch property were sold in 1986 and eventually transferred to Pueblo West Metropolitan District, as part of their municipal water portfolio. The current phase many people are aware of then  began.

Located west of U.S. 285 in Nathrop, it provides a clear picture of the difference between water left on the land — or not — it is the subject of a roadside education stop on the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway.

The revegetation remediation was the result of a water court decision in 2006 (Case #01CW152) that allowed the water rights to be converted from agricultural use to municipal use. But Pueblo West hasn’t gotten the water right yet: water will not be transferred to Pueblo West until the revegetation is approved by the Chaffee County Board of Commissioners.

After the 1986 agreement, the land remained with the Hill family who subsequently subdivided it for residential sale. There are currently about 30 property owners within the revegetation area who are part of the project. After several years of attempted revegetation that failed, Resource Based International (RBI) was hired in 2018 by Pueblo West to complete the project. One of their challenges was that after a century of ditch irrigation, some of the soils are heavy peat, and extremely difficult conditions to reseed native vegetation.

Paul Flack is the general consultant for RBI’s Hill Ranch project. He has three decades of experience working on Arkansas River water rights projects, including the Arkansas Headwaters State Park. County Commissioner Greg Felt has been coordinating with RBI, serving as the county’s primary liaison for the project. The two plan a presentation demonstrating the progress being made.

Currently, about half of the decreed area has been reseeded and is in various stages of establishing and re-establishing native grasses. The scheduled completion date is 2028, a date dependent on weather conditions and other factors.