Gay Family Honored for Riparian Stewardship

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by Susan Otis, Yampa Valley Land Trust

It is with great enthusiasm and respect that the Yampa Valley Land Trust nominates Green Creek Ranch and the Gay Family for the Colorado Riparian Association Excellence in Riparian Management Award.

 Elaine and Bill Gay
Elaine and Bill Gay at Green Creek Ranch

The Gays have consistently demonstrated their unwavering commitment to the business of ranching while exhibiting the finest elements of responsible environmental stewardship. Having ranched in Pleasant Valley (a part of the greater Yampa Valley) near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, for over a century, the Gay’s know just how important it is to actively protect their natural, working lands and water. Under intense pressure to sell their ranch for a new ski area development once proposed on property contiguous to their ranch, the Gay family led the charge of a diverse group of Yampa Valley residents for nearly three decades against the Lake Catamount Ski Resort and Development. In December 1998, the Gays saw the fruits of their labor resulting in the Cordillera Corporation’s donation of a 3,296-acre conservation easement surrounding Lake Catamount that effectively relinquished any rights to a ski area and reduced resort development of the property by over 90%. Answering their own conservation challenge, “If you’ll do it, we’ll do it,” Elaine Gay, along with her children, Bill, Margaret and Roberta, and numerous grandchildren, followed suite with a 920-acre conservation easement on Green Creek Ranch. The conservation easement on Green Creek Ranch recognizes the outstanding riparian habitat and important ecological features found along Green Creek and nearly a mile of the Yampa River, highlights the scenic beauty of this productive landscape, and permanently eliminates any future development on the property, which also included portions of Blacktail Mountain. More recently, Green Creek Ranch donated two additional conservation easements of eighty acres on the original Sickels Homestead, two private land in-holdings of a much larger conservation area surrounding Stagecoach Reservoir, further eliminating potential development in the area.

 Riparian area
Green Creek Ranch riparian area aong Yampa River

Bill Gay is direct in articulating his family’s passion for this historic ranching valley: “Most people see a ski area as a quick way to sell out, make money, and move on. We weren’t interested in selling out, we wanted to stay right here.” Throughout the lengthy battle to preserve Pleasant Valley, the Gay’s created converts by inviting political leaders, land developers, environmentalists, journalists, forest service officials, and other key players to sit around their kitchen table, savor Elaine’s famous homemade pies, and discuss possible alternatives to the resort development. All the while, the family went about their daily ranch business of not only running cattle and putting up hay, but also actively stabilizing stream banks, improving waterfowl habitat, and refraining from using chemical fertilizers and pesticides that would threaten the water supply downstream. This dedicated philosophy also earned the Gay’s the Shining Star Award from the Steamboat Springs based Environment 2000. Conservation activities in Pleasant Valley represent the brilliant success of ranchers, environmentalists, and land conservationists working side by side for a common good and serve as a perpetual testament to a legacy of commitment and dedication. Opposing nearby resort development isn’t the end of the story. In order to protect the land that they love, the Gay family has worn many other hats at the forefront of the community. They played a key role in establishing the Routt County Purchase of Development Rights program (a voluntary, incentive-based program to compensate landowners who want to sell development rights), helped launch Yampa Valley Beef (a “value-added”, local, beef promotion program), participated in many local planning efforts and have actively supported local 4-H programs. Today, even amidst the pressures of the booming real-estate market of the existing Steamboat Springs resort, located a mere twelve miles down the road, the family continues to ranch in the same valley they have ranched for generations. As Bill Gay pointed out, “The recreational industry that touts a western image and rural heritage will be much more authentic with some cattle to go with those cowboy hats and boots!”

Thanks to the Gay’s exemplary land stewardship, Yampa Valley residents and visitors alike will delight in the majestic open vistas of Pleasant Valley and Green Creek Ranch as they descend from Rabbit Ears Pass for all the years to come; the Yampa Valley’s wildlife will always have a bit more room to roam; and the health of the Yampa River, one of the West’s most biologically intact river systems, is left a bit more stable. As a third generation ranching family, the Gay’s have secured their family heritage, their ranching traditions, and their seat of honor in local history. The Gay Family of Green Creek Ranch exemplifies the finest in environmental stewardship and leadership. Yampa Valley Land Trust strongly supports the Gay Family of Green Creek Ranch for the Colorado Riparian Association’s Excellence in Riparian Management Award.

For their environmental stewardship and leadership in protecting Pleasant Valley for those who share the valley today and for all who follow in their footsteps, the Colorado Riparian Association is proud to present its 2002 Award for Excellence in Riparian Management to The Robert and Elaine Gay Family and the Green Creek Ranch. Congratulations!