A storied working ranch in South Routt County that acts as a wildlife buffer zone between critical habitat on nearby public lands is now protected thanks to a conservation easement through the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust.
The 321-acre Flying Horse Ranch, located about 4 miles south of Stagecoach Reservoir along the edges of Routt National Forest and the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area, has been in the Dequine family since 1967. The ranch land in the Morrison Creek Valley also provides habitat for elk, deer, moose, bear, mountain lions and coyotes, according to Lou Dequine III.
“We are stewards of the land, and we want to see it remain as it is and provide venues that are compatible with the conservation values,” said Dequine, 73, a longtime large animal veterinarian who operates Flying Horse Veterinary Services and often flew himself via helicopter to area ranches.
Dequine said the conservation easement is key to preserving the open space and wildlife habitat as the nearby Stagecoach subdivisions develop, as well as maintaining the ranch as a legacy for future generations of the family. The ranch is also home to a cross-country jumping course that hosts pony club events. The course was created by Lydia Dequine, who passed away unexpectedly in 2016, said step-daughter Kari Dequine Harden.
Through the years, the property has supported hunting, fishing, sheep and cattle and was home to the Kids Cavalry all-girls summer riding camp. The weeklong camps at Kids Cavalry attracted hundreds of campers through the summers from 1997 to 2007, where they spent days riding through the forest and camped alongside the property’s 7.5-acre pond.
Amber Pougiales, assistant director of external relations with Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, attended the horse camp as a girl.
“It’s difficult for me to describe just how much this conservation project means to me. I spent two weeks each summer at the Kids Cavalry riding camp, and Lou Dequine and his late wife, Lydia, are responsible for the creation of many of my fondest childhood memories,” Pougiales said. “The completion of the Flying Horse Ranch conservation easement provided me with the rewarding opportunity to not only protect an ecologically significant property but to also protect a place and thank a family that played an impactful role in my formative years.”
The Dequine family raised Suffolk sheep on the ranch for a dozen years. Now, they graze older lambs during the summers for lamb stews, chops and other dishes at the historic Antlers Cafe & Bar in downtown Yampa, operated by Harden and her husband, Spencer. Lou, who is semi-retired, also boards horses, treats neighboring horses and works irrigating and haying the land at Flying Horse Ranch.
The conservation project also received funding from Colorado Parks & Wildlife Habitat Partnership Program due to the strong wildlife habitat, Pougiales said.
“Privately owned agricultural lands play a critical role in landscape-scale conservation by creating buffer zones to open space, protecting wildlife corridors and supporting critical wildlife habitat,” Pougiales said.
Flying Horse Ranch, located near Lynx Pass, was part of an original 1,000-acre ranch purchased by Lou’s father and later split between two partners, including Bob Adams, namesake for the Steamboat Springs airport. Another third of the original ranch entered into a conservation through the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation about two years ago, and the remaining third sold in the spring to a conversation-minded owner, Dequine said.
Pougiales said the nonprofit currently is seeing an increased desire and demand for conservation services in northwest Colorado, “which outpaces nearly every county in the state.
“That can be at least partially attributed to development pressures that exist in northwest Colorado and desires to protect ag land, open space and wildlife habitat,” Pougiales said, noting the economic pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic also plays a role in the increased interest.
“The financial benefits do contribute to owner desires to complete conservation easements to ensure the ability to continue to practice ag and potentially pass on their work to the next generation,” Pougiales explained.
She said land transfer statistics show Routt County experienced a 48.5% increase in gross volume of real estate sales from 2019 to 2020. “This demand has placed significant pressure on development,” she said, “and caused an unprecedented increase in real estate value, challenging the economic viability of our largest and most rooted industries and placing never before seen development pressure on our agricultural lands and open space.”
The conservation transaction was made possible by the Routt County Purchase of Development Rights Program, which voters approved in 1996 to allow a property’s development rights to be purchased from willing landowners. With the addition of Flying Horse Ranch, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust now has 68,481 acres in conservation easements in Routt County, Pougiales said.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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