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Posts tagged ‘Colorado’

Paralegal Karen Dierkes Volunteers on “Snow Drawings” Project

Last winter, Paralegal Karen Dierkes participated as a volunteer to assist artist Sonja Hinrichsen in her “Snow Drawings” project.  In 2013, Ms. Hinirichsen’s canvas was Lake Catamount near Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  As you can see from the photos below, the completed project was beautiful!  All photos may be found here.

Photos are available to purchase.  To purchase or for more information, please contact Sonja Hinrichsen at or sonja[at]

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Snow Drawings at Catamount Lake, Colorado, 2013 by Sonja Hinrichsen

Snow Drawings at Catamount Lake, Colorado, 2013 by Sonja Hinrichsen

Snow Drawings at Catamount Lake was created in a joint effort with over 60 volunteers from Steamboat Springs and vicinity, who came out with their snowshoes to walk spiral patterns during the 3 days between Friday February 1st and Sunday February 3rd 2013. Despite deep, heavy snow that made walking difficult and strenuous people stayed and created a stunning art piece on the lake. I was greatly impressed of the piece that revealed itself when I flew over the lake Monday morning. I want to thank all volunteers for their great work, the Steamboat Springs Public Library and Steamboat Springs Arts Council for their invaluable assistance in organizing this event, the Lake Catamount Touring Center for hosting us, and the pilot who flew endless rounds over the lake, so that I could take hundreds of photos.

(Exert taken from:

About the project (in the words of Sonja Hinrichsen):

“Snow Drawings” is an ongoing project where I “draw” large designs in the environment by walking lines into fresh snow surfaces with snowshoes. Ideal “canvases” are deforested areas and frozen lakes. The finished pieces are ephemeral. While they take hours to create, their duration is unpredictable.  Sometimes they are coated over by new snow shortly after completion.

I began this project in winter 2009 during an artist residency in Snowmass Village in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Out of play I started designing patterns in my mind, which I then transferred onto the snow. My designs have since become more elaborate , and I have continued this project in other landscapes across the US. Last winter I worked with community volunteers for the first time. This enabled me to create even larger pieces. During two exhilarating community events that combined art-making and outdoor winter activity in a stunning landscape in the Colorado Mountains, we created large drawings that could only be seen from the air in their entirety – and only for a limited time. The volunteers took pride in their participation in these environmental works, connecting with the project and the landscape. The 2012 “Snow Drawings” received significant press; they were presented on numerous art, design and culture websites, and written about in magazines, including SOMA Magazine, TRACCE (Italian Archeology Magazine), and a Chinese Art Magazine. They were featured on NPR, MSNBC, The Discovery Channel, public TV Tokyo. Photographic prints have been exhibited in California and Europe. This experience inspired more ambitious plans for this coming winter. In January and February 2013 I plan to take this project to a new level and organize community events in different geographical regions across the US – to create monumental-scale drawings. I have so far secured support from three organizations to host events: in upstate NY, in Southwestern Wyoming, and the Nature Conservancy will host the work in Northwestern Colorado. In Colorado we plan to cover an entire frozen lake with snow drawings. I am currently in discussion with several organizations in other parts of the US. During their short existence “Snow Drawings” correspond with the landscape – and so do those who assist in creating them. To make the work accessible to a larger audience, it is essential that photos be taken immediately after each event. The scale of the work requires aerial photography.

I hope that these pieces emphasize the beauty and uniqueness of each landscape, and thus inspire appreciation for nature – especially as modern society becomes increasingly disconnected from the natural world.

(Exert taken from

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Beauty on the Yampa River

Fishing the Town Stretch of the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

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Legitimate Tax Reform or Another Attack on Agriculture?

Several months ago while attending a Land Stewardship Class, sponsored by the Community Agriculture Alliance, I was surprised to learn from our County Assessor that some of the rules for the taxing of agricultural lands had recently been changed.  The legislature had passed House Bill 11-1146 and the Governor had signed it for the ostensible purpose of curbing an abuse of the constitutional tax benefits that apply to agricultural land in Colorado.

The change seems to have occurred because from the perspective of the front-range legislators, people who own nice houses in mountain resort areas were getting an undeserved tax benefit if they leased their land to a cattle rancher or a hay farmer.  In this type of circumstance, the property owner (with an agricultural tax classification) would pay a low rate on a low valuation, as prescribed by the Colorado Constitution.  The owner of a nice house on 40 acres of land that was grazed by a neighbor’s cattle might pay a tax of a few hundred dollars per year, rather than a tax of a few thousand dollars per year (without the agricultural activity).

The new law does not impact vacant agricultural land.  However, where there is a residence, the law requires that the residential area – up to two acres — of an agricultural property shall not be included in the definition of “agricultural land” unless the improvement is integral to an agricultural operation conducted on such land.   If the residential area is not “integral,” then the area must be taxed at the residential rate, but at a value that in most cases will be significantly higher.  The taxes for this property will go up.

The statute goes on to define what it means by the phrase “integral to an agricultural operation.” To try to phrase this in plain English, someone who lives in the house has to be running the agricultural operation on the land, or someone living in the house must be a close relative of the person who is running the agricultural operation.

In Routt County and neighboring counties, there has frequently been a mutually supportive relationship between local agriculture operators and the second-home owners who have purchased some acreage.  Sometimes it is simply a grazing lease for the open land, other times it can be a caretaker relationship, or a more complex relationship where one property owner shares responsibilities with another.  The bottom line has been one that has kept lands in active agricultural use, and the agricultural tax classification has been part of the incentive that has helped this cooperation work.

So, what will the net impact be here in Routt County?  Will this new  law discourage people from having sheep and cattle graze across their property.  Will we lose additional acreage from ranchland?  While we may strongly suspect this negative impact to available productive agricultural land, there is no way that we will know for at least several years – as the County Assessor pores over the recent agricultural property survey results, makes initial determinations, notifies the property owners, and the property owners decide how they will respond to the situation.

For now, what we do know is that under the new law the County Assessor must make an initial determination of which agricultural properties should be subjected to some change by the first of May.  Then, the owners who receive notice of classification and/or valuation changes will have an opportunity to protest before June first – initially to the County Assessor, and then possibly to the Board of County Commissioners, sitting at the Board of Equalization.  When property owners see their tax bills in January or February of 2013, they will know what the real impact of this legislation is on them and their property.

The County Assessor and the County Commissioners have provided some basic fact background concerning this law on the County’s web site.   The upper right corner of the Routt County home page identifies House Bill 11-1146, and will connect you to the statute and related background.

(Rich Tremaine is an attorney in Steamboat Springs and a member of the Community Agriculture Alliance’s advisory board.  A copy of this column and further information on this topic can be found at his law firm’s blog “”)

Originally published in the Steamboat Today on January 13, 2013 and can be found here.

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In 2011, the Colorado Legislature amended the real estate tax laws in an effort to curtail what it perceives to be an abuse of agricultural tax benefits. The concept appears to be that if someone has a house on their property, but is not pursuing an agricultural activity, then that house is really “residential” even though the rest of the acreage may be in an agricultural use. The residential area should then be categorized as “residential” and taxed based on the residential value, rather than on the lower agricultural value.

Specifically, the Legislature approved House Bill 11-1146, amending the definition of “Agricultural land” to exclude up to “two acres … of land on which a residential improvement is located unless the improvement is integral to an agricultural operation conducted on such land.” This new law will now be implemented by the County Assessors around the State of Colorado.

After a recent public presentation – the County Assessor providing a report and update to the Routt County Commissioners, the County has posted some basic information about the new law, and the law itself, on the County’s web site:

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a.          Know the facts about what you own/have purchased (real estate rights; boundaries; easements; access; claims of others; fence lines; water rights).

b.          Avoid unnecessary confrontations; reach a reasoned agreement, if possible; particularly on neighbor-neighbor disputes.

c.          If litigation is necessary, get fully prepared to go to trial, but make formal efforts to settle, before, during or after hearing/trial.


a.          Agriculture as a high-liability activity.  Large animals, heavy equipment, water bodies, fences.

b.          Corporations, LLC, Partnership.  General recommendations that I make to clients.


a.          Ranch Maintenance and Management (written contracts)

b.          Protecting access rights, boundaries, water rights.

– Number one, know what rights you have.

– Number two, know how you can lose your rights. e.g. adverse possession is generally a period of 18 years; water rights must be used, or can be construed as having been abandoned.

c.          Estate Planning.

– In context of farm or ranch that you want to pass along to children or family, there are a number of steps that can be taken to protect this ability.  For example, family partnerships, lifetime transfers, conservation easements, family businesses, etc.  These efforts can be critical to preserving this property for heirs, especially in periods of escalating land values.

d.          Ownership.  Review of plats, boundaries, title commitments.

– If you have no survey, consider having one done.  If there are known boundary issues, contact neighbor and resolve.  If there are items on title commitment that are of concern, make inquiry and resolve.  Important for dealing with neighbors, for dealing with government, for dealing with sale of all or part, for dealing with owners of mineral interests, etc.

e.          Protecting agriculture tax status.

Know the definitions and the rules.  Then, be careful to comply.  Discuss County efforts 10-12 years ago; litigation; attitude since the litigation.  (Colorado Revised Statutes, Sec. 39-1-102, “Agricultural land”, “Farm” and “Ranch” defined; recent amendments (House Bill 11-11-46).

f.           Protecting rights of use (building, activities).

– As County becomes more urban, county’s planners come up with changes to zoning resolution that may impact use of private property.  For example, limits on ridge-line development were a major issue for a couple of years.  Secondary units and the related rules continue to be an issue.  Land preservation subdivisions and the related rules may impact owner directly or indirectly.

g.          Conservation Easements.

– Describe and explain how they come into being.  Describe the basic steps to be taken, and the basic options.  Describe the short-term and long-terms impacts.  Discuss/provide information on where to get more details.

– Discuss that fact information is critical to establishing a conservation easement.  Here, not only are boundary lines critical, but also knowledge about water rights and mineral rights.

– Practical:  Those conservation groups which are active in this region tend to be cooperative and mutually supportive.  However, all have their standard form easement, which, as expected, tends to be very restrictive.  The fact is that where there is any level of “gift” involved, the organization will negotiate terms.

h.          Mineral Rights.

– In Colorado, mineral rights are severable from the surface rights of real estate.  In some cases, this has occurred.  For example, on my ranch property, my company owns the surface rights; the State of Colorado owns the mineral rights.

– On some properties, a past owner may have retained the mineral rights, or may have retained a one-half interest in the mineral rights.  A later owner may have retained the other half.  However, mineral rights are not cleanly traceable in the land records.  So, a title company may note that certain mineral interests were reserved, or conveyed, by a previous owner, but the title company will not insure that you are receiving mineral rights, as part of a title commitment.

– Historically, not a lot of issues/disputes in Routt County.  However, with the energy development activities, there have been serious issues between rural property owners and energy development interests – particularly in New Mexico and in Wyoming.  In Colorado, these issues have started to arise in Garfield, Rio Blanco and Moffat Counties.  We are now seeing these in Routt County.

4.         DISPUTES.

a.          Fences and Gates.  The basic law; the typical dispute.  (Colorado Revised Statutes, Sec. 35-46-101, et seq.)

b.          Covenants and Easements.  Restrictions that are “recorded.”

– Back to your title commitment.  Typical provisions/restrictions will relate to access, to road maintenance, to utilities, and to water rights; some relate to permitted structures, require architectural review.

c.          Water Rights.  Discuss fact that water rights are established, ultimately, by Court Decree.  Property owner can make use of the water first; then file for rights.  Alternatively, owner can file first, and then develop the water rights that were established.  Discuss Colorado Supreme Court case; ramifications.

d.          Dispute resolution.  Court or alternative dispute resolution (ADR).


a.          A Guide to Rural Living & Small Scale Agriculture, Routt County

b.          “” publications page

c.          “” (Colorado Bar Association)

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Fall Wildlife Watching in Steamboat Springs

This Moose was Captured by a Motion-Detection Trail Camera

This Cow Moose and her Calf Were Enjoying a Beautiful Steamboat Day!

The Bears are Actively Preparing for Hibernation in Steamboat!

This Antelope Enjoys a Field Near Hayden, Colorado

Kahless - More Typical of the Local "Wildlife" in Steamboat!

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Meghan Morrissey Gives Back at National Public Lands Day

National Public Lands Day took place on September 24, 2011.  National Public Lands Day is the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer event for public lands in the United States.

Meghan worked on the Blizzard Pass Trail near Grand Lake, Colorado,  which is part of the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest.   Meghan, along with 20 other volunteers, built approximately 170 feet of “turnpike.”   Turnpikes are used to elevate the trail above wet ground.  The technique uses fill material to build up the trail base higher than the surrounding water table.

The 2011 NPLD Blizzard Pass Volunteers and Staff

The Turnpike is Built with a Culvert Below to Allow Water to Flow Underneath

Soil and Rock is Added to Fill the Turnpike

The Completed Turnpike is Behind Meghan. Without This Section of Turnpike the Trail Resembles a Swamp!

Members of the Colorado OHV Statewide Trail Crew Showcasing Their Work

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