Executive Director of the Yampa Valley Land Trust Susan Dorsey has been collaborating with brothers Dean (left) and Jim Rossi on the gradual conservation of their family cattle ranch in South Routt County since 1996. On Feb. 28 they received the approval of the Routt County Board of Commissioners for the latest 840-acre easement on a parcel named for a rocky mesa called the "Devil's Grave."

Executive Director of the Yampa Valley Land Trust Susan Dorsey has been collaborating with brothers Dean (left) and Jim Rossi on the gradual conservation of their family cattle ranch in South Routt County since 1996. On Feb. 28 they received the approval of the Routt County Board of Commissioners for the latest 840-acre easement on a parcel named for a rocky mesa called the "Devil's Grave." Photo by Tom Ross. |

Devil's Grave latest South Routt ranch parcel to be conserved


— The Routt County Board of County Commissioners gave its blessing Tuesday to the use of $256,000 in dedicated property taxes to help conserve the Devil’s Grave, an 840-acre parcel within the larger South Routt cattle ranch owned by brothers Jim and Dean Rossi.

The acreage, used primarily for cattle grazing, is named after a landmark butte that rises from the sagebrush in an area of South Routt County already known for the unobstructed views of the 11,000-foot peaks of the Flat Tops Wilderness. The new easement will link to previously conserved parcels on the ranch.

Asked by County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski how the Devil’s Grave acquired its colorful name, Dean Rossi replied, “That was a long time ago. Some surveyor thought it looked like there was a headstone at one end and put that name on it. It’s on the maps going way back.”

The latest conservation easement on the ranch, where the fifth generation of Rossis is growing up today, also marks a significant footnote in the county’s decades-long efforts to protect historic land use practices here.

The easement was facilitated and will be held, by the Yampa Valley Land Trust. Land Trust Executive Director Susan Dorsey confirmed Tuesday that the initial easement placed on the Rossi Ranch in 1996 was the first of its kind in Routt County with funding assistance from Great Outdoors Colorado.

In those days, she said, Routt County’s Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program was not yet in existence.

The Rossi brothers agreed Tuesday that the conservation program they have undertaken, in particular the original 1996 easement, has enabled their families to stay on the ranch.

“It’s benefitted us and our families,” Jim Rossi said.

Dean Rossi observed that the number of original families still operating cattle ranches here is dwindling. Their family was able to purchase a previously conserved property that adds to the viability of their agriculture business.

Funding for the county’s PDR program comes from 1.5 mills of voter-approved property taxes that were last renewed in 2006.

The PDR program is intended to give landowners an economically attractive alternative to selling land for development by compensating them for the development rights they agree to put under a conservation easement. By giving up those future development rights, the owners typically donate more than half of the appraised value of the land.

In the case of the latest 840 acres due to be conserved by the Rossis, the easement was valued at $600,000. The contribution from PDR of $256,000 represents 42.7 percent of that amount. Other partners, including GOCO through its open space program, will contribute 38.5 percent. The balance of 18.8 percent, or $113,000, will be contributed by the property owners.

The Devil’s Grave section of the Rossi Ranch is situated along Routt County Road 17, is designated as part of the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway and is visible from heavily traveled Colorado Highway 131. It provides habitat that supports both greater sage grouse and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, bald eagles, mule deer, elk, moose and mountain lions.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1


Scott Wedel 4 weeks ago

The ranch owners are wonderful people, but seriously what is the development potential of this parcel?

According to real estate agents quoted in newspaper articles, larger parcels are already more valuable than if cut up into smaller parcels.

It is well past time that the money cease to be spent on "development rights", but is spent on public benefits such as a seasonal trail easement. Some time in the future when these sort of parcels are owned by extremely wealthy investment bankers and such then the public will wonder why taxpayer was spent for so little public benefit.


Eric Morris 4 weeks ago

Scott, hopefully conservation easements have the same staying power as government bonds.


rhys jones 4 weeks ago

Hey, I don't mind helping the rich folks out.


John Weibel 4 weeks ago

another govt program that helps consolidate wealth and pick winners and losers.


John Weibel 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Rich is relative, they are receiving government money which facilitates growing their land holdings/operations, with no need to pay back the funds that facilitated their continued operation.

By the way, my father was childhood friends with the founder of Cabella's and he looked like an entry level employee, by the way he dressed and with little hope of maintaining his job for long. They probably do not work 12 hour days all the time, they probably have many days which are 4 hour days also.


Scott Wedel 3 weeks, 6 days ago

Well, if the development rights, the added value of splitting up the parcel, is claimed to be $600,000 then there must be some desirable aspects to the property. The picture of the property in the meeting packet to justify "preserving" it shows gorgeous sweeping views.


John Weibel 3 weeks, 4 days ago

You seem to suggest that look at them, they are not rich. They are land rich and able to increase land holdings because of the PDR program.


rhys jones 3 weeks, 4 days ago

It is legally-sanctioned, thinly-justified, good ol' boy theft -- but at least it's from you, the landowners, (deeded, levied (mortgaged)) and not me (directly).

Obviously it pays to have the right friends. They take care of their own kind.


John Weibel 3 weeks, 3 days ago

I don't care, except that taking money via taxes to give to another is not right.


rhys jones 3 weeks, 3 days ago

There are two distinct classes in this country: The Haves, and the Have-Nots. Or more precisely, Landowners and Everybody Else -- with the latter class working for the former class.

The Haves, to a large degree, are descendants of the pioneers who stole it from the Indians in the first place, then passed it down through the generations... to where now it's sitting vacant, not doing anything for anybody, they can't make it pay, and the Haves come crying for gas money for the monster truck, lest they have to borrow again or divest some holdings... so we can KEEP it non-productive, a drain on everybody, of use to nobody...

Must be a helluva cross to bear. My heart cries; take our money.


John Weibel 3 weeks, 3 days ago

By the way, I do not care if they are rich. I only care that as in the story of Robin Hood where a corrupt government took from some and gave to others, is what is happening. It is not right, set it up in a way that it is a interest free government loan that can help out many over a longer period of time as opposed to a transfer of wealth, from the many to the few.

Foreign aid generally takes money from the middle class in wealthy countries and gives it to the wealthy in poor countries.

As an interest free loan set up to help agriculture in a way that preserves the land for future generations, the owners are allowed to grow their business and if successful it returns for them to borrow again or another. That way as in Mr. Wedels comments the taxation of the broader public is not simply going to serve one ranching family... it comes back to help again and again, as long as the rancher is following a long term profitable business model.


Carl Steidtmann 3 weeks, 3 days ago

I am surprised and a bit saddened by the hostility towards the Rossi family and the purchase of their development rights by the Yampa Valley Land Trust.

Survey after survey of Routt County residents have shown that preserving open space and the county's ranching heritage were top priorities. The money used to purchase the development rights to the Rossi land comes from monies voted on by county residents over a decade ago.

The Rossi family is not getting something for nothing. They are selling their development rights. It is easy to say that no one will ever want to develop the property today. But what about 50 or 100 years from now. How many people would have seen the development of Catamount or Stagecoach 50 or 100 years ago. The corridor between Oak Creek and Vail has a lot developmental potential given enough time and a continued migration of people into Colorado.

The money for the purchase of development rights does not come solely from the tax payer. As a long time contributor to the Yampa Valley Land Trust I can stipulate that both charitable gifts and legacy endowments financially support this process.

And finally, by reducing the supply of developable land, transactions like this raise the property values of all property owners in Routt County. I commend the Rossi family for being pioneers in the sale of their development rights and visionaries for helping to preserve a future of Routt County that will continue to support its ranching and open space heritage.


Scott Wedel 3 weeks, 3 days ago

I see no direct criticism of the ranch owners. At worst, they have have accepted that has been offered to them. There are no claims they have done anything wrong.

The wisdom of the program is being criticized. The parcel has questionable development potential. The program, by its very design, is giving money to people already owning large parcels of land.

That there could be future development pressure is why I think it should be important to get seasonal trail access on "preserved" parcels. When there is significant development pressure at the base of the Flat Tops and a large ranch is no longer more valuable as a rich person's estate then with the other developments in the area, made more valuable by having this ranch as open space, then the public will wish that this PDR had also bought trail access or some other public benefit.


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