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Vail Daily Trust Our Land: Protecting our ranching heritage, the heart of Colorado

by Bergen Tjossem

When people think of land trusts, particularly in this valley, they might think of their favorite picturesque view, or biking trail, and the importance of preserving it from development. And while Eagle Valley Land Trust plays a critical role in preserving our scenic views and recreational access, there are other important reasons why our community needs stewardship of its land.

Clayton Gerard is a fourth generation cattle rancher, running a cow-calf operation two miles south of Gypsum with his father and sister. Theirs is the only ranch left in Gypsum. There used to be six, but land has become so valuable that over time, ranching land has given way to housing developments and golf courses.

When Clayton is not running his family ranch – a 16- to 20-hour day operation that he calls a lifestyle, not a job – he sits on the board for Eagle Valley Land Trust. He believes in EVLT and its role in this community because he knows all too well the value of the land he’s sitting on, and the importance of preserving it.

“Lose ranching, and Colorado loses its heart,” says Gerard. “Ranching is in our heritage. It’s what Colorado was built on.”

Gerard stresses that for his family and other ranching families, it’s not about getting rich. People assume families like his are wealthy, because of the land they sit on, but they’ve had that land for four generations back when land wasn’t expensive. “We’re just trying to live our lifestyle in the way that our family has before us,” he explains, “and keep the generations going. Running cows and ranching, it’s a dying breed.”

Where EVLT really helps ranchers, he explains, is that ranchers are able to receive money for their land from federal, state, and local funds specifically created to help conserve ranching and farming heritage. These ranching lands are often in a prime location for houses, so via an agreement with the land trust, ranchers are able to survive, and continue to do what they love while supporting the community.

This Saturday, Eagle Valley Land Trust will host its annual Ranching Heritage Tour, giving community members the chance to learn firsthand what it takes to live and work the land. This year’s ranches include Haymeadow Ranch and the Gates Ranch. In its first year, the tour featured the Gerard Family Ranch.

“People think of meat as coming from a package in the store, but they don’t realize there is a whole story behind that animal’s life, and that’s what we try to help folks understand when they come out to our ranch,” said Gerard. “We partner with the Forest Service and BLM, get permits and make sure we’re grazing the land properly. Our cattle are grazing the land, and the land is helping our cattle. People think it’s a package of meat, but there is so much more to it than that.“

Clayton and his family connect with this community in other ways, including partnerships with the Town of Gypsum and Eagle River Youth Coalition. His family is also working on a grass-fed beef program, to offer a product that is home raised and coming straight to locals from their ranch, rather than going to a feed lot.

“I think it’s important for the community to know more about this important part of our heritage, but we’re also just trying to build relationships with everybody,” explains Gerard. “People think ranchers are mean, old, grumpy and stuck in their ways. We do want mountain bikers to know about things like the importance of closing gates behind them, to keep cattle in certain places at certain times to graze the land properly, and to scoot over to the side of the road if they see us coming with a herd of cows, but we also want to coexist with everyone and grow a relationship with them.”

“It’s our heritage to have these views as well as these ranches,” says Gerard. “It’s really just a part of Colorado.”

Space is limited for this Saturday’s Ranching Tour, so if you are interested in participating, EVLT encourages visiting evlt.org and signing up today.

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