beyond a reasonable doubt

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]

Snow 1

Snow 2

Snow 3

Snow 4
Snow 5

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

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Beauty on the Yampa River

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

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

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.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine


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:

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine



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)

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

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!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

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

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Protecting Yourself When You Build or Remodel

Although the economy has not fully recovered from the recession and money is tight, now may be a good time to start that remodel or to build your new home. Local contractors are looking for work and building supplies and materials have dropped in price since the mortgage meltdown. If you are about to embark on a building project, this article will give you a few tips to help protect yourself in the event your construction project does not turn out as planned.

Construction litigation can be very complex and therefore very costly. This article cannot address every aspect or problem that could arise during a construction project. Even a small residential project, whether just a remodel or a new home, can have numerous components to it that must be tracked and verified. The paperwork involved in a construction project can be copious and complex. If you end up being in a position where you have no choice but to file suit, such a suit could be very expensive. It is always better to take whatever steps you can to protect yourself to avoid litigation, if at all possible.

Not every project will require that you hire an architect or a general contractor. If you plan to hire a general contractor, keep in mind that Colorado does not require a general contractor to be licensed so virtually anyone can give themselves that title. Be sure to get references and don’t be shy about contacting those references. Ask direct questions of those previous clients. Did the contractor get the job done promptly and within the time frames agreed upon? Did the contractor finish the job within budget? How was the quality of the work? How big was the punch list at the end of the project? Since many contractors feel most comfortable using the same subcontractors such as plumbers or electricians, ask about the subcontractors that were on the job because you are likely to see them working on your project.

Even if your project is small and you are not using an architect or a general contractor, be sure that everything is in writing! Start with an initial written contract that describes the project in detail. There are numerous types of construction contracts, be sure to read the contract so you know what it entails. Don’t be shy about asking questions and contact an attorney if your questions are not getting answered. The more complex the project, the more complex the contract should be. If your general contractor will be submitting periodic payment requests, be sure those requests are in writing, details the work done and the hours spent and describes and lists the material used.

Keep records! No matter the size of the project, there will be a tremendous amount of paperwork associated with it. Keep the paperwork and organize it in a logical fashion in case you need it later. If it is a big project, you should have several folders for the various portions of the job. Remember, if something goes wrong, you will have to justify and document your position. That means you will have to have invoices and receipts and be able to find them. If you end up having to file a lawsuit due to a problem with the work, you are likely going to be hiring an attorney. That means the attorney will want all of the records you kept. If you have them well organized, it will take the attorney less time to organize the material and assess your case and therefore save you money.

Take photographs! The digital cameras of today make it simple and easy to document every step of the work. Start taking pictures beginning with the excavation all the way through to the finished product. You don’t have to print them out until you need them in the future. Photographs are very helpful in the event you must pursue a lawsuit. They may disclose construction defects that you were not even aware of at the time the picture was taken. Sometimes a photograph can be the strongest evidence you have in a construction lawsuit. Take them and save them with the hope that you never use them.

Problems arise even with the smallest construction projects. Think ahead, maintain your records and document everything with paper and photographs. Contact an attorney sooner rather than later so that he or she can protect your interests. Not only will this practice give you the best protection in the future, but if your contractors know that you are paying attention to the project, they will do the same.

Originally published in The Steamboat Local


Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Community Agriculture Alliance: Farm Property Tax Laws Revisited

The Colorado Court of Ap­­­peals recently considered the question: When is the owner of agricultural property eligible to receive the favorable “agricultural” tax classification? Fortunately for the landowner involved and for the owners of agricultural property in this region, the court took a common-sense approach to applying the facts of the case to the Colorado real estate tax law.

Under Colorado law, a property that is used for agricultural purposes, where the owner is attempting to make a profit — either from crops or from livestock uses — is entitled to an “agricultural” tax classification. This then results in a favorable tax rate. In this case, the Adams County assessor had classified the subject property as “vacant,” which resulted in a much higher tax rate to the owner, Aberdeen Investors Inc.

Aberdeen had purchased the property in 2004 and in July 2005 leased the property out for grazing for the remainder of the grazing season. Aberdeen also leased the property for grazing in 2006 and in 2007 requested that the property be classified as “agricultural.” The assessor denied the request, indicating that the property would have had to be in agricultural use on Jan. 1, 2005, in order to satisfy the requirement that the property be in agricultural use for the previous two years.

Although the court’s decision bogs down a bit in some technical legal interpretation, it did apply common sense in stating, “using a property as a farm or ranch seldom occurs on January 1.” Of course, this is not because farmers and ranchers party so hard on New Year’s Eve, it is because this time of winter is not growing season or grazing season in most of Colorado.

In summary, the court considered some of the basic realities of agriculture in our climate — the seasonal aspect of much of the activity, the fact that a portion of the property may lie fallow for a time to replenish the soil, and the fact that areas may be excluded from grazing or tilling for conservation reasons. The court indicated that the legal interpretation of this property tax law is to be reasonably applied to the realities of agricultural operations. If the Colorado Legislature wants the rules to be interpreted differently, then the Legislature can amend the law.

This type of practical opinion is important to this area of Colorado, where our growing and grazing seasons are much more abbreviated than much of the state. It also is important that the court recognizes that conservation practices might dictate that portions of the agricultural property are not used for specific agricultural purposes in a given year.

As a final aside, consider whether the county assessor might have viewed the situation differently — before he classified this property as “vacant” land in 2007 — if the owner had been the Aberdeen Ranch Inc., rather than the Aberdeen Investors Inc.

The citation to this case is Aberdeen Investors, Inc., v. Adams County Board of County Commissioners, 240 P.3d 398 (Colo.App. 2009)

Originally published in The Steamboat Pilot & Today

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Hiring a Lawyer: Finding a Trusted Adviser

“Never leave that till tomorrow, which you can do today” – Benjamin Franklin

Last week you learned about being your own attorney. Well, if that is not for you, then you are going to need to select a lawyer to address your legal needs. Venturing into the world of finding a lawyer may seem daunting. You may not know who to call. Should you reach for the phone book? The newspaper? The computer? If you need a lawyer, or think you might, you should start your search promptly. If you delay this, you run risks and create unnecessary stress. For example, if you are a Colorado resident and are served with a lawsuit, you have twenty days to answer. If you start searching for an attorney right away, you will have a choice of available attorneys. You can conduct a couple of interviews and hire a lawyer who has a few days to assist you in preparing a timely response.

The following should be considered to ensure that you do not just hire a lawyer, but that you engage someone who will quickly become: a trusted adviser.

1. Seek a referral. The best place to start is to talk with your family, friends, and colleagues about lawyers they recommend. These people can tell you about their experiences and whether they were satisfied with their attorneys. While your parents’ estate planning lawyer may not be able to defend you against the crime of which you have been accused, good lawyers will usually point you in the direction of other good lawyers.

2. Arrange for a meeting. Meet with the lawyer you are considering hiring to get a feel of whether you will be able to work with that lawyer. Be aware that many lawyers charge for an initial consultation, so to make the most of your time be prepared to present a brief, clear summary of your legal issue. A good lawyer will explain your options and the legal procedures you will encounter at your initial consultation.

3. Look for a good fit. Make sure the lawyer you are considering hiring has experience in handling your specific legal issue. Most lawyers concentrate in one or more areas of law. It is also important that your lawyer has knowledge of the judge or legal environment you are facing. Finally, you should consider the lawyer’s personality and approach to the case. You do not need to become friends with your lawyer, but your lawyer should be someone that you can work with. At the minimum, you should ensure that your trusted adviser listens to you, answers your questions, and respects your wishes as to the direction that the case goes.

4. Learn how you will be charged. Lawyers may charge an hourly fee, a one-time flat fee, or a fee based upon a percentage of the amount awarded to you at the end of the case. The fee depends on the type of case and the attorney’s practice. Ask the attorney about how small fees, such a copying, faxing, and filing are assessed. Usually a retainer, or advance payment, is required and your attorney should explain how that money will be handled. Learn whether the lawyer works alone or has a paralegal and administrative support staff. Paralegals and support staff can sometimes complete tasks at a lower rate, which will likely save you money in the long run.

5. The Three As: Availability, Affability, and Ability. How quickly you can secure an appointment for an initial consultation should tell you something about your lawyer’s availability. Your trusted adviser should return your phone calls and e-mails within a reasonable time. Your lawyer should be a person you can trust to be honest with you through difficult times. Your lawyer should have the experience to provide you with current legal advice, as well as what to expect from the judge who may decide the outcome of your case.

The bottom line is that your lawyer should be a trusted adviser, especially in tough times. You will be able to rely on your lawyer as a source of advice and support. Because your relationship with your lawyer is trust-based, taking the time to select a lawyer that will be candid and honest with you will pay off in the end. In closing, an old adage comes to mind – “They that will not be counseled, cannot be helped.”


Originally published in The Steamboat Local

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Tag Cloud