Though I am a relative newcomer to Routt County, my children are the fifth generation to be shaped by this land and to grow up on our working cattle ranch at the foot of the Little Flat Tops.
My husband, Tyler, and I teach by example. We work sunup to sundown to provide for our family, produce food for our community, and steward a place for the fox to raise their kits and the elk to bugle, for the cutthroat trout to spawn, and the eagle to hunt. I am hopeful that when my kids come down the stairs on an early spring morning to find a calf warming by the woodstove, the lessons they learn nursing it through its first day of life will help them become kind and resilient people who make a difference in their community. And I hope the difference they make is colored through the lens of the place that shaped them.
I recently told my daughter the legend of the Sleeping Giant on the way to school; how it pulls people to the Yampa Valley, never allowing them to leave and mixing their soul with the sense of place. She understood completely. Place is what makes Routt County so special.
Land is key to a healthy and secure future for our region. It provides pure drinking water, healthy food, clean air, habitat for wildlife, and places for people to work, recreate and reflect. Routt County is 1.5 million acres in size; 50% of this is public lands and 61% of the private land base is in agriculture. The abundance of agricultural lands and natural areas in Routt County plays a substantial role in attracting tourists and thus supporting the local recreational economy.
Steamboat has a lot of monikers: Ski Town USA, Bike Town USA, and before that, it was Cow Town USA. It’s a moniker we value and one that sets us apart from other ski areas in the state. There are close to 900 farms in Routt County, and 95% of these are family owned. 465,119 acres are still in ranching and farming in the county but this number has been dropping: 24% since 2012 and it’s plain to see that the post-COVID era has only increased the pace of conversion in our county. Every 30 seconds, the United States loses an acre – about the size of a football field – of natural lands to roads, houses and other development. At this pace, we are quickly losing the defining character and natural beauty of important places in Routt County, Colorado, and across the country.
Our community understands the provisions of the land and the value agriculture plays in shaping or sense of place. In 1996 Routt County voted to create the Routt County Purchase of Development Rights Program (PDR). With the help of the PDR Program, close to 20% of the private land base has been conserved. But the work is far from done.
The threat to our sense of place is real and we all need to play an active role in shaping the future of this community. As a community we must strengthen existing relationships and build new connections to protect the places we love and support the community that sustains us. Fighting to keep our sense of place means thoughtful and sustainable growth that fosters the creation of a resilient and supportive community. Seek opportunities to purchase locally produced agricultural products, support our local nonprofits, and engage in community planning. Let’s instill in our children a great sense of place, with the hope that they will passionately and tirelessly work to protect it too.