EVLT Staff Monitors Gates Ranch on Horseback
EVLT’s staff took a trip to visit Kip and Leslie at Gates Ranch for the annual monitoring visit of their conserved ranch. The 740-acre Gates Ranch, stretching across a mesa and through valleys, streams, and a major canyon, is most effectively surveyed on horseback. Surefooted horses allowed the team to notice small details about the landscape, like the tracks of moose and scat from bear, and transports riders into an earlier time, serving to connect the modern day to traditional methods of transportation in our region.
The ranch, originally homesteaded by James P. Gates in 1893, is one of the last reminders of a way-of-life that is an integral part of Eagle County’s history. Kip, descendant of five generations of ranchers who lived on and worked the ranch, takes great pride in the land’s history and stewardship.
As staff received a tour of the property on horses–specially bred and trained to be cool and confident on the characteristically rugged and unique terrain of Eagle County–Kip regaled the group with stories from early days on the ranch. Many stories described how early settlers, Kip’s ancestors, creatively solved problems to meet the needs of daily life. One such example was the story of how Kip’s ancestors spent years clearing, building, and adjusting an irrigation ditch to bring water 6 miles from its spring-fed source to the main living area of their chosen mesa-top home. Instead of working against the land, they used natural sources of water and undulations in hillsides to build a track for the water to flow through. The work was thoughtfully done, and not easy. The amount of critical thinking, dedication, and elbow grease involved in such an endeavor is emblematic of the character of the County. This is a character that is deeply intertwined with the history and incredible diversity of the landscape.
Trips to conservation easements are important because they remind the staff, and all visitors, of why it is we work so passionately to conserve land. We have been shaped by the land, and it holds our stories, offering us prompts to reflect on where we came from and why we are who we are. Kip was prompted by specific overlooks, turns in the irrigation channel, and historical objects into remembering and sharing stories carried down through his family for generations. Under conservation easement, it’s likely that many generations to come will be able to traverse the land and be transported into their family history by the same landmarks. We do this because it’s our community heritage, our County history, that we are preserving when we work to conserve land. We are driven to preserve these stories–and the land that holds them–for the generations that follow us.
If you or anyone you know has stories about particular areas of our County that have been cherished by their family for generations and would like to share why it is so important that the land is protected, we’d love to hear them. Share your stories with us, and help us continue our work by donating, volunteering, or attending a talk or hike given by one of our partners through our Community Land Connection series.