Thompson Creek Ranch

Acquisition of the Ranch

After a nation-wide search for an appropriate site for Sustainable Settings’ permanent home, the Board of Directors identified the Thompson Creek Ranch in Pitkin County. In the autumn of 2002, Sustainable Settings’ board of directors provided initial support toward the land campaign, totaling $257,000. The following spring, Adam Lewis and Peter B. Lewis made the purchase of the Thompson Creek Ranch possible with their lead gift of $2.1 million. At this time, the land campaign continues in order to secure a $1 million endowment to permanently protect the ranch.

Whole Systems Learning Center

At the Thompson Creek Ranch, Sustainable Settings is creating a whole systems learning center – an unprecedented project in the inter-mountain West. This learning center integrates a diverse array of sustainable development strategies and practices into a cohesive model of interdependent systems. Core elements of the center include sustainable agriculture, green development, micro-enterprise, land stewardship, and art for daily life. See the whole systems learning center page for more information.

The Site

The historic Thompson Creek Ranch is located between Carbondale and Redstone in the Crystal River Valley, one of the most beautiful regions in Colorado. This 244-acre property lies alongside 1.4 miles of Highway 133 – designated by the State of Colorado as part of the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway. The majestic 12,957-foot Mount Sopris can be seen from all parts of the property. This three-peaked mountain is an extinct volcano that was sacred to the region’s indigenous inhabitants, the Ute Indians. Thompson Creek borders the property to the south.
Thompson Creek Ranch is one of the largest remaining parcels of undeveloped land in Pitkin County. The ranch contains critical connecting habitat from the Crystal River to Bureau of Land Management land and high mountain parklands. The land is home to numerous wildlife species, including bald eagle, owl, hawk, bear, elk, mule deer, pine martin, bobcat, fox, and coyote.

Ranch Settlement

Alex J. Thompson and his family homesteaded the ranch in 1879. Subsistence farmers, they raised livestock and grew hay and potatoes for market until 1949. The Cottonwoods line the two ditches – Pioneer and Lowline – that they dug and irrigate the pastures today. Structures still standing include the original 1879 settlement log cabin, historic 1893 Victorian ranch house, barn with hay shed, granary and other outbuildings.

Conservation Easement

Sustainable Settings collaborated with Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails Program (OSTP) and The Conservation Fund, which had jointly purchased Thompson Creek Ranch in 1999, to co-author and establish the conservation easement that now permanently protects the ranch. The conservation easement that was created is held and managed by the Board of County Commissioners of Pitkin County.

“We have been exploring creative solutions to preserve the valley’s ecological, scenic, and agricultural qualities . . . Open Space and Trails Board was agreeable to Sustainable Settings’ intended uses and voted unanimously to allow Sustainable Settings the opportunity to purchase the ranch.” – Dale Will, Executive Director Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Program

The easement conserves 2/3’s of the ranch as open space and critical wildlife habitat. The remaining 1/3, roughly 80 acres of historically ranched land, is the focal point of the whole systems learning center—providing facilities, food production and a living and working setting for the organization’s ongoing research, education and demonstration programs.