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Are Recreational Ranches the New Ski Town Second Homes?

Crested Butte is best known for being the funky final holdout of major ski resorts. The tiny, former coal mining town has stubbornly refused to sell out, and retains many of its original false-front buildings, decrepit shacks, and other trappings of the Old West. While skiing and summer recreation drive Crested Butte's modern economy, the East River Valley is still very much devoted to cattle ranching and the cultivation of crops like hay. Small wonder then, that the valley is home to Wilder on the Taylor, a remarkable housing development catering to second homeowners who want the recreational pursuits and amenities of a ski town, while residing on a historic working ranch.

The 2,100-acre hay and cattle ranch is on the Taylor River, nestled amidst two million acres of Federal Forest in the town of Almont, midway between Gunnison and Crested Butte. Established in 1898 by homesteaders Charles T. Stevens and James E. Stevens, "Wilder" has remained a working ranch for almost a century. In 2007, developer Jackson-Shaw, acquired the property as well as additional acreage, with a view toward protecting and preserving the ranch and land from development (we know, that sounds like a contradiction).

The goal was to use a "community ranch operating plan" to implement a "low-density development plan," securing the remaining open space under a conservancy dedication. Jackson-Shaw CEO and Chairman Lewis Shaw, who owns a home in the Taylor Canyon, was motivated by the news that the historic property might be facing reincarnation as a golf course or high-density development.

Shaw decided a better use for the land would be long-term sustainable development that promoted the region's ties to the American West. The point of recreational ranches is to allow the tradition of ranching heritage to continue and be handed down generationally- an endangered way of life due given the economic and physical hardships of sustenance ranching, combined with increasing urbanization.

Today, Wilder is blossoming as a new form of second homeownership. The ranch permits a maximum of 26 homesteads on 35-acre-minimum parcels (there are also four fully-restored historic guest cabins available for homeowners and their guests). The basic premise is that you can own a portion of the ranch, but don't have to deal with the intense labor involved in its upkeep (minus caring for your own horses or other livestock should you choose to go that route).

As a working ranch, Wilder currently has a herd of 50 heifers (it also produces its own beef), and harvests 300 acres of hay (used for horse feed) annually. Ranch managers Don and Shelly Sabrowski have managed the ranch for 18 years, and assist interested homeowners in participating with cattle drives, livestock management, and other agricultural pursuits.

In return, home and landowners have access to two miles of private fishing waters on the Taylor River- a world-class fly-fishing destination- as well as a private creek. There are numerous hiking, riding, and mountain biking trails on and nearby the property. The region is also known for its elk hunting, rock climbing, paddling, backpacking, and, of course, Nordic pursuits. The commercial airport in Gunnison and Crested Butte's luxury amenities (think spas, golf, great restaurants and nightlife) ensure homeowners are never too far from the finer things, but get to enjoy a rural lifestyle. Win-win, eh? Riverfront Homesteads start at 1.65 million.

· Wilder on the Taylor [Official Site]
· The Best Day Hikes in Ski Country [Curbed Ski Archives]
· The Best Libraries Ski Town Bike Paths [Curbed Ski Archives]