When the mountain valleys of the Rocky Mountains were settled in the late 19th century, most of the valley floors became private land. Towns were built, ranchland was established, and the mountains themselves were left to be mined and hunted.
For those reasons there are many beautiful mountain vistas around our state, but ski-valley bottom-land, because of its value and because of the difficulties of ranching in the high country, has become housing developments.
An exception is the Gunnison Valley where, for whatever reason, our ranching community has proved tough and resilient. About two-thirds of Gunnison County’s private land is used for ranching operations.
Relationship Between Ranching and Conservation
In the summer of 2018 the largest ranching preservation parcel in the history of Colorado was put under a conservation easement. The Trampe Ranches contain over 6,000 acres and stretch 30 miles from the old mining townsite of Gothic to Gunnison.
There are now over 75,000 acres of land in our valley, mostly on the valley floor, that have been conserved.
There are dozens of centennial ranches in the valley that have been in the same family’s hands through three or more generations. The ranches employ hundreds of ranch hands to irrigate, hay, repair fence, and move cattle around the valley and then to market.
While tourism and recreation have replaced mining as the biggest economic driver in the valley, the economic benefits of ranching remain strong from the 19th to the 21st Centuries. There are also many ecological benefits to ranching in the Gunnison Valley, with groundwater recharge perhaps being the most important.
We expect our towns to change, but the view sheds we all enjoy traveling up and down the valley today should be enjoyed by future generations thanks in large part to our ranching families.