Pitkin County is poised to protect another historic ranch on the edge of Basalt. The Board of County Commissioners will consider adoption of an agreement to purchase a $5.2 million conservation easement on the Cerise family’s Saint Jude’s Ranch on Wednesday, Dec. 7.
The county’s Open Space and Trails Board has been working on this purchase for some time. It would protect roughly 260 acres that is bounded by Basalt High School, Light Hill, the Roaring Fork Club and the Roaring Fork River. The ranch boasts 125 irrigated acres and senior water rights. The property lies just outside of Basalt’s Urban Growth Boundary and, like the nearby Grange Ranch easement, the preservation of St. Jude’s will further that town’s vision of a permanent urban limit line protecting surrounding farmlands.
Reno Cerise’s grandfather, John, purchased the ranch in 1904. Succeeding generations of Cerises have farmed and ranched there and once hosted a successful dairy. The family now runs a cow-calf operation.
The ranch is named for Saint Jude, the disciple most eager to assist those in need. The family’s Catholicism reflects their heritage in the Aosta region of Northern Italy, an area that yielded many of the Roaring Fork Valley’s agrarian pioneers. The Open Space program has protected the nearby farmland of several other families of Aostan descent, including Grange and Glassier. The nearby Grace-Shehi and Emma Open Spaces both border the Grange Ranch, helping provide a continuous urban buffer stretching upvalley from Emma. The Rio Grande Trail is enhanced by its traverse of all of these properties.
Under the proposed conservation easement, the Cerise family will continue to own and operate the ranch. The easement will protect it from all development outside of a 10-acre envelope where up to six clustered, modest-sized homes would be permitted. All of the houses must remain on a single parcel with the ranch itself, and subdivision will be prohibited. There are currently three homes on the property. This plan will preserve forever a stretch of scenic agricultural land along both sides of the popular Rio Grande Trail, as well as a riparian area along the river where the last intact remnant of Basalt’s primeval cottonwood forest marks the entrance to this extraordinary ranch.
In summing up the Cerise family’s decision to permanently conserve their ranch, Marilyn Cerise said: “It is our heartfelt desire, to pass on the land as we received it.”
The Open Space and Trails program is committed to protecting the local agricultural landscape. While the founders of the program in 1990 looked at this in terms of a rural lifestyle, local food production is now seen as equally important. Recent Charter amendments clarified that the program is to protect “local production agriculture.”
Open Space Acquisition Director Dale Will said, “There could not be a better example than the conservation of Saint Jude’s Ranch as to why the recent extension of Open Space funding was so important. While suburban sprawl continues to threaten food-producing lands in our valley, the Cerise family has chosen to partner with us to protect forever one of the most beautiful farms I have ever seen.”
Contact: Dale Will, Open Space and Trails Acquisition and Special Projects Director