Nearly 90 years ago, in 1927, the Rainbow Trout Ranch, then known as the Rainbow Trout Lodge, first opened its doors to guests. In 1927 the pop-up toaster was invented, work began on Mount Rushmore and Charles Lindberg flew the Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic Ocean for the first solo-transatlantic flight. Even then, people were drawn to this beautiful tucked-away spot on the upper Conejos Canyon for its superb fishing, horseback riding, and to explore the nearby wilderness. The Ranch has been an iconic guest ranch in southern Colorado and in the Conejos community ever since, with generations andhundreds of guests visiting each year. The current owner/operators, the Van Berkum family bought the Ranch in 1993. And really, not much has changed in the last 90 years. People still come from all over, even from abroad, to enjoy the exceptional fishing, horseback riding and great beauty.
One thing that has changed in the Conejos Canyon is development. Clusters of cabins on small lots can now be seen along much of the river corridor’s private lands. And the 590-acre Rainbow Trout Ranch, being nearly surrounded by public lands of the Rio Grande National Forest and La Jara Reservoir State Land Trust land, is prime for such development. There’s nearly a mile of the Conejos River, with world-class trout fishing on the Ranch. Wildlife abound, including deer, elk, bear, and the occasional lynx. The views of the property itself, with its mature Douglas Fir forest and impressive rock outcrops, all of which can be seen from the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway (State Highway 17) are spectacular. With so many more people now than in 1927, there is a high demand for small lots on along such a beautiful river. The Van Berkums are frequently asked if they’d be willing to split off a small parcel for someone’s dream cabin.
Thankfully for all of us, the Van Berkums instead chose to protect their property with a conservation easement with RiGHT. Your support made it possible to work on this project and bring it to completion this past October. With just a few privately owned parcels protected along the Conejos to date, the preservation of this historic and picturesque ranch is an important conservation accomplishment.
The Rainbow Trout Ranch was featured in our 2014 “Save the Ranch” campaign, and a total of 57 individual donors contributed to make this project a success. We would especially like to thank major donors to the effort including: the Van Berkum family, Duane and Susan Larson, Chris and Christy Hayes, The Michael and Andrea Banks Nature Fund, Barbara Relyea, Nancy Starling Ross and Wayne Ross, Tom and Pat Gilmore, Jim Gilmore, Forrest Ketchin, David Cohen, Diana and Tim Anderson and Bonnie Orkow and the many others for their generous contributions to this exceptional conservation effort.
In addition, conservation of Rainbow Trout Ranch was made possible through the generous support of Great Outdoors Colorado, the Gates Family Foundation, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area.
“This project exemplifies the power of partnerships,” said Katherine Brown, RiGHT’s Development Coordinator. “The support of these funders, from state and federal programs and private foundations, along with contributions from so many individuals and the Van Berkum family all came together to make this possible. We hope that everyone who drives up Forest Service Road 250 to the Platoro Reservoir or who stops at the Highway 17 overlook to take in the majestic view of the Conejos Canyon will appreciate the spectacular landscape that will remain open and connected through this conservation project.”
As part of RiGHT’s Rio Grande Initiative to protect the land and water along the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers, the Rainbow Trout Ranch is the first conservation easement on the upper reaches of the Conejos. Conservation of this historic guest ranch also protects the history of western recreation and the cultural importance of a natural playground that generations of guests have enjoyed and will continue to be a place for families to experience the beauty of nature far into the future.
While celebrating this accomplishment, RiGHT is looking forward to our next conservation projects. The 2016 “Save the Ranch” campaign is focusing on the La Garita Creek Ranch in Saguache County, where we held our 2016 Headwaters Hoedown in September. Your support for all of our work is greatly appreciated!
“On behalf of Linda, David, Jane and myself, we would like to express our appreciation to RiGHT and to the many individuals who have helped us in our journey to preserve this beautiful stretch of the Conejos River. We are blessed to live in the spectacular Conejos Canyon and are honored to share the traditional western lifestyle with our guests, and to know that the natural and unspoiled beauty will be preserved for generations to come.”
Doug Van Berkum