A third-generation family ranch west of Milner, which is a wildlife refuge, also serves as an outdoor classroom for Colorado State University ecology and forestry students.
“Any time you get the students out of the classroom and into the natural environment, that’s a benefit,” said Bob Sturtevant, who teaches forestry at CSU and is assistant ranch manager at Utterback Ranch. “You can talk about it all you want and show PowerPoint presentations, but until they identify insects, flowers… That’s what gets them excited about natural resources, and they understand the complexity of natural resources.”
The 2,121-acre ranch is owned by Karin Utterback-Normann and her husband Ron Normann, who both have a history with CSU in Fort Collins as a graduate and former research employee, respectively.
Karin previously donated half of the ranch land to the university, where she earned a master’s degree in agricultural economics, agronomy and anthropology. Ron previously worked as a research scientist in the winter wheat program at CSU.
The Utterback family ranch is on the market for $10.9 million, put up for sale jointly by the family and CSU, following the retired couple’s move to Grand Junction in late 2020.
The CSU Research Foundation currently manages the entire ranch, and whether any part of the ranch can remain a living classroom will depend on the eventual new owner.
CSU undergraduate and graduate students travel to West Routt Ranch to study ecology, wildlife, and forestry. They camp in tents on the property, studying everything from pollinators to fire mitigation to the health of Tow Creek that runs through the property. Sturtevant, along with Dr. Paul Evangelista, a research ecologist at CSU’s Natural Resources Ecology Laboratory, live part-time in the ranch house.
Sturtevant said the ranch allows students to see a different area of habitat than Fort Collins on the Front Range. In addition to studying forestry, his students learned how to repair fences, manage invasive weeds, use chainsaws and help with hay production.
Game cameras help monitor wildlife on the property, including deer, elk, cougars, bears, and many species of birds.
“My goal is always to get (students) out, and this gives us the opportunity to do that,” Sturtevant said.
One of the reasons the ranch is so conducive to natural resource research and hands-on learning is the massive amount of rehabilitations the couple have facilitated on the ranch. The land has been in the Utterback family since 1906, and when Karin inherited the ranch from her father in 1995, the property had been overgrazed by cattle and plagued by invasive weeds, as well as runoff from former mining operations. of coal.
The couple spent the next 24 years rehabilitating the property and restoring the waterfront areas. She credits technical assistance and cost-sharing from various state and federal agencies with helping to return the land to a healthier natural state.
She also commends the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Habitat Partnership Program thought Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado State Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and CSU Routt County Extension for their assistance over the years.
“Each year, we accept a few projects. We let nature heal,” the owner said of the comprehensive property management plan the couple have drawn up.
The couple were recognized by the Upper Yampa Habitat Partnership Program as the 2011 Landowner of the Year for their efforts. The award highlighted wildlife-friendly fencing projects with high-visibility top wire and wildlife crossing areas that allow better movement while reducing injury, as well as water development projects that improve the resources available for livestock and wildlife.
“What we’ve learned is that if you have good advice and you follow that advice, (you can) let nature heal itself,” she explained in a video created about restoring nature. property. “We got rid of the weeds. We have reseeded. We restored wetlands and then let nature take its course. We haven’t overgrazed him, and that’s essential. And it’s slowly coming back. »
While running errands at the ranch in Steamboat Springs on Friday, Sturtevant said, “It was just a privilege to be able to work on the property. It is a beautiful field. »
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email [email protected]