The iconic Crazy French Ranch is a 30 square-mile property best known for containing Fisher’s Peak just south of Trinidad. The Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have announced that they have jointly reached a conditional agreement to acquire the ranch. The organizations and the landowner are working to satisfy remaining conditions and are hopeful the ranch purchase will move forward.
Wade Shelton, a senior project manager of the Colorado Office of Trust for Public Lands, and Matt Moorhead of TNC-Colorado spoke at a Trinidad City Council work session on Tuesday, November 20. Both men said they were looking for local input on future plans for the ranch, with the goal of conserving the region’s outstanding wildlife habitat while providing public access and supporting the local economy.
“We’ve got the opportunity for the Trust for Public Lands and TNC to buy this property and hold it until it could be conveyed into public ownership, for the benefit of all the citizens of Trinidad,” Shelton said. “This would not be possible without City Council’s patience and community passion. So now we’re ready to introduce the project to the broader public. We wanted to meet with you all first, because you’re the ones who got us interested, and the ones who made this a real possibility. We’ll be following this up with meetings in December with the Las Animas County Board of Commissioners.”
The conditional agreement includes a purchase price of $25.45 million, he said, with a closing date of no later than February of 2019. Due diligence is underway, including appraisal, mineral rights, environmental assessment and property title research. Fundraising is underway through public and private sources. Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) has pledged $7.5 million in project funding, with $4.5 million up front and the remainder due at public transfer.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has pledged $7 million in project funding. The partnership’s goal is to raise the remainder of the required funding from both public and private sources within the next two to four years. Having the funding in place at public transfer would mean no debt would be associated with the project.
The property would be conveyed to public ownership once all the funding was in place. A Master Planning Process, when completed, would define the what, when and how for public access and management. Having a Long Term Management Partner would mean that neither Trinidad nor Las Animas County would have to take on financial or staffing responsibilities for the project.
A Conceptual Visioning Process would be conducted before the purchase, with a consultant hired by the partnership to engage stakeholders and the local community to ensure the final vision meets the community’s goals for the property. Property management would be put in place during the holding period.
A Master Planning Process would contain several elements. It would determine how to mesh great natural resource management with quality recreational opportunities. A playbook would be established for how to improve and manage the property for the public’s benefit. The consultant would work for everyone in a community driven process.
J.J. Autry manages a ranch north of Branson and has been with TNC since 2015. Autry said the partnership had hired a consultant, Rudehouse Studios, to interview area residents in the near future to find out what kind of recreational opportunities they would like to see featured at the Crazy French Ranch. “Those lessons that are learned are going to come from that conceptual visioning process,” Autry said. “That’s where we decide that all these things that are on the bucket list that people want to do, now we can say where are the areas where they can do that? We can actually go through that planning process, and go through that list. That’s where then planning process comes in and we can plan for all of the critters and the ecology. We can also jump in and say that we’ve got hiking and biking trails and how do all those fit in. We can learn lessons from all of those things.”
Former Las Animas County Commissioner Jim Vigil is now a CPW commission member. Vigil said CPW would be responsible for managing the wildlife on the property, which he said encompassed 19,200 acres. “As a CPW commission member, one of the things I hear about is a lack of hunting access,” Vigil said. “This will open a lot more areas for hunters. There won’t be any development because CPW will only approve things like hiking and biking trails. The elk herds are tremendous and they come down to the Crazy French Ranch during calving season.”
Moorhead said the great thing about the purchase of the ranch is that it gave greater access to wildlife areas for the people in the Trinidad area and those coming in from outside the area. There were other great wildlife areas on both sides of the Colorado and New Mexico that recreational enthusiasts could also utilize for their outdoor enjoyment.