From the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust via The Valley Courier:
Over a mile of the upper Conejos River is now protected forever, thanks to the commitment of the VanBerkum family. As of last week the beautiful Rainbow Trout Ranch was preserved in perpetuity through a conservation easement with the community’s Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT).
“On behalf of Linda, David, Jane and myself, we would like to express our appreciation to RiGHT and to the many individuals who have helped us in our journey to preserve this beautiful stretch of the Conejos River,” said Doug Van Berkum. “We are blessed to live in the spectacular Conejos Canyon and are honored to share the traditional western lifestyle with our guests, and to know that the natural and unspoiled beauty will be preserved for generations to come.”
The 591-acre Rainbow Trout Ranch is a historic guest ranch that has been in operation for over 85 years. Largely surrounded by public lands, the entire ranch, including the impressive rock outcrops above the main lodge, can be seen from the scenic overlook on Highway 17 as it climbs the Cumbres/La Manga Pass. Highway 17 is designated as a Los Caminos Antigos Scenic and Historic Byway and the views of the Conejos Canyon and the ranch from the overlook are spectacular. With few privately owned parcels protected along the Conejos, the preservation of this historic and picturesque ranch is an important conservation accomplishment. “We are immensely grateful to the Van Berkum family for their dedication to this beautiful property and to the Conejos Canyon,” said Nancy Butler, RiGHT’s executive director. “As the owners of Rainbow Trout Ranch since the early ’90s, they share the ranch with over 700 guests every summer who come from across the United States and overseas to enjoy the beauty and serenity of the Conejos River valley. Protection of the ranch will help ensure that legacy continues far into the future and that the land and wildlife habitat will remain intact for all to enjoy.”
The conservation of Rainbow Trout Ranch was made possible through the generous support of Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the Gates Family Foundation, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area. Rainbow Trout Ranch was featured by RiGHT in their 2014 “Save the Ranch” campaign, and a total of 57 individual donors also contributed to make this project a success. RiGHT would especially like to thank: Forrest Ketchin, Duane and Susan Larson, Chris and Christy Hayes, Michael and Andrea Banks’ Nature Fund, Jim Gilmore, Tom and Pat Gilmore, Barbara Relyea, Nancy Starling Ross and Wayne Ross, and Bonnie Orkow and many others for their generous contributions to this exceptional conservation effort.
“This project exemplifies the power of partner- ships,” said Katherine Brown, RiGHT’s development coordinator. “The support of these funders, from state and federal programs and private foundations, along with contributions from so many individuals and the Van Berkum family all came together to make this possible. We hope that everyone who drives up Forest Service Road 250 to the Platoro Reservoir or who stops at the Highway 17 overlook to take in the majestic view of the Conejos Canyon will appreciate the spectacular landscape that will remain open and connected through this conservation project.”
As part of RiGHT’s Rio Grande Initiative to protect the land and water along the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers, Rainbow Trout Ranch is the first conservation easement on the upper reaches of the Conejos. Bordered by the Rio Grande National Forest on three sides and La Jara Reservoir State Land Trust land to the north, the permanent conservation of the property will enhance and maintain the overall landscape. This is vital for wildlife movement as well as the preservation of the scenic beauty of the area. The property features large intact areas of Douglas fir forest and extensive riparian habitats, both important wildlife resource areas for large mammals including the federally-threatened Canada Lynx, elk, and black bear as well as migratory birds that rely on high altitude river corridors and the important fisheries of the Conejos River.
Nearby landowner, former RiGHT board member, and renowned artist who draws great inspiration from the scenic beauty of the upper Conejos area, Jim Gilmore said of the completed easement, “I feel the Conejos Canyon is one of the most beautiful spots in Colorado. And the Rainbow Trout Ranch is one of the largest and most desirable properties along the river. It is great news that RIGHT and the Van Berkum family worked together to conserve this beautiful piece of land.”
Conservation of this historic guest ranch also protects the history of western recreation and the cultural importance of a natural playground that generations of guests have enjoyed. First known as the Rainbow Trout Lodge, the ranch opened to guests in 1927, mainly as a fishing retreat, with horseback riding, backcountry pack trips and hiking also offered. In 1993 the Van Berkum family converted it to a full-fledged guest ranch complete with youth programs, evening activities and recreational and fishing access to the beautiful Conejos Canyon. With an emphasis on the western traditions and lifestyle, the Rainbow Trout Ranch will continue to be a place for families to experience the beauty of nature far into the future.
For more information about the conservation work of RiGHT please visit www. riograndelandtrust.org or contact the land trust office in Del Norte at 719-657-0800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.