Current Edition

current edition


Buffalo — Walking the ground of the Sand Creek Ranch, which now has the beginnings of its infrastructure laid out, it’s apparent the land’s cluster development is very deliberate.
    Contrasted with 40-acre ranchettes across the highway, the Sand Creek Ranch’s houses will be “clustered” in neighborhoods of three or four, with each neighborhood on its own and seemingly disconnected from the other 99 planned home sites on the ranch, which covers 836 acres against the eastern slope of the Bighorns.
    “Essentially every homeowner on the place will have great visual separation that will always be there,” says Sand Creek Ranch Conservation Community President & CEO John Jenkins of his plan for the ranch, which was set in motion in September 2007. “We took the time to use the topography so every neighborhood is by itself.”
    As the ranch continues to come together, the most recent project to be completed was a local effort to restore the Hopkins Producers Irrigation District water transportation infrastructure, which serves four other ranches besides Sand Creek.
    “An area that was teetering on the edge of rural sprawl and unsustainable agriculture is going to work now for another 100 years,” says Jenkins of the improvements, estimating the district will cut its water losses in half in converting from open ditches to pipelines. “We fixed something that was 125 years coming apart, and I think we’ve stabilized agriculture for a long time.”
    In early June the district had charged the new infrastructure with water for the first time.
    “There are five big pillars to preserving the ranch, and one was to get a transportation system on the ranch that would work for agriculture and the limited future development,” explains Jenkins of the roads, which are complete, noting the second was the Hopkins irrigation project.
    The next big project on the ranch, and the third aspect, will commence this fall, after irrigation season, and will reconstruct the water infrastructure on the ranch’s property. Plans include six pivots and 400 acres of K-Line irrigation. “For the first time in years we’ll fully utilize the water on the ranch,” says Jenkins of the project, which is funded in part through a cost-share with NRCS.
    Accompanying the isolated nature of the small neighborhoods is a 1/99 ranch interest for each person who buys into the ranch, which includes the irrigated hay meadows in the bottom land as well as several community pastures for horses and 4-H livestock.
    Following the irrigation, Jenkins says the next piece of development is a rural electric backbone running throughout the ranch, and the last piece is telecommunications, although that one has a unique solution.
    “It turns out that a local communication company now does a lot of rural voice-over-internet phone service, and they have a wonderful system with high speed broadband three miles from us that covers the whole ranch,” says Jenkins. “We think we’re going to go completely wireless at the ranch. I had always thought the gold standard was the landline, but I’m not so sure that’s true anymore.”
    One challenge currently facing the ranch is property tax assessment, so Jenkins says he’s been focusing on adding more improvements to the ranch and bringing the agriculture operation back into full production while that gets sorted out.
    Of the ranch’s future residents, Jenkins says the ranch’s conservative covenants determine who will and will not buy into the ranch. So far there are 16 individuals who have bought shares, which makes it about 20 percent purchased.  
    Each one-acre home site contains a quarter-acre building envelope, and there’s a 28-foot limit on house height to keep visual impact low, says Jenkins.
    Home construction has yet to begin, as shareholders don’t have the option to take their sites out of the ranch land until the electricity and irrigation is complete.  Jenkins expects the first homes to begin construction sometime in 2010.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Buffalo landowner protects ag in the midst of subdivision

Buffalo - “The most important thing I hope your readers will understand is that we’re landowners first and foremost and ‘developers’ only out of necessity,” says John Jenkins of the Sand Creek Ranch Preservation Company in Buffalo.
    “We’ve owned the place since the 1970’s and when my mother passed away in the mid-90’s we looked around to find the best opportunity to keep the place intact,” he says of the ranch land on Sand Creek northwest of town.
    “The obvious thing to keep the ranch together was to not do anything with it, but then it became surrounded on two sides by ranchettes, which created problems with operating and drove the land value up so high that my wife and I couldn’t afford to die,” he explains.
    Jenkins describes the land as a farm that had always been undercapitalized. “When it got down to it, without investment it was a 150-animal unit outfit that only worked as a piece with other pieces; it had a hard time standing on its own. The old flood irrigation infrastructure was gradually seeing the wheels come off and a lot of unsustainable things were happening.”
    After they had begun to analyze their options, Jenkins says he began to contemplate a conservation development, of which he had heard of in other areas of the country. “We started looking for somebody to help us do the conservation development, and when we couldn’t find anybody we decided we’d do it ourselves.”
    Beginning in 2003, Jenkins began working with a master-planning consultant experienced with agricultural lands facing a transition in use.  The initial step was high-resolution aerial mapping of the land. “Then we had a base to let the ag issues talk to the habitat issues and the engineering and development issues,” he says.
    A key issue addressed through the mapping was the compilation of a viewshed model. “Without highly accurate viewshed modeling, it’s impossible to say what will be hidden and what will be visible when buildings are actually constructed,” explains Jenkins. “In the model, from every square foot on the ranch you can see which square feet are visible and which aren’t visible all the way to the mountains.” He says the model even tells what acreage on the Bighorn National Forest is visible from specific locations on the ranch.
    Through work with a retired NRCS district conservationist, Jenkins was able to determine what agriculture and habitat opportunities were on the ranch and what could be improved with capital. “That led to the identification of potential conversion from open ditches to pipelines, which led to an understanding of what might be done on the ranch under pivots and other sprinklers.”
    “We concluded we could take the farm from a production of 200 to 400 tons of hay per year to 2,000 tons of hay per year under the new irrigation system, and that suddenly made the place sustainable,” he says. “That was something that could compete against five-acre ranchettes and it showed there is a market-based alternative to selling out to the highest five-acre ranchette developer bidder.”
    To accomplish the irrigation improvements, Jenkins talked with his neighbors and they came together to form the Hopkins Irrigation District in 2005. “We started working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Wyoming Water Development Commission and came up with a plan to build the Hopkins pipeline, which takes in the country northwest of Buffalo and gives a 50 to 100 percent improvement on water delivery.”
    “Out of the irrigation plan came the decision to put 650 acres of the ranch under six pivots and the rest of the ag land will be under a K-Line irrigation system,” he explains.
    “After the ag use land was removed from residential consideration, we looked at the land that was left to find the sites with great views that wouldn’t stick out like sore thumbs.  That’s where the homes are sited,” says Jenkins. He said they also planned home sites according to views that could be hidden from one another and out of the way of the public so there’s no developmental sprawl.
    Jenkins says initially the land lost value because of a conservation easement put on the ag lands in the spring of 2007. “We said we weren’t going to do this project and give the commitment unless the heart of the ranch was protected,” he says, explaining the easement. “Before any of this stuff happened we put a conservation easement on 508 acres of the ranch critical to ag production.”
    The financial benefits from the easement allowed Jenkins to finish out the limited development residential part of the project. “At the end of the day we hope to break even on what we would have made if we had just sold the ranch outright back in 2003, but the difference is the ranch is intact and permanently protected,” he says.
    Jenkins emphasizes the ranch can preserve the ag productivity for true operators at an ag market price instead of a price relative to the surrounding housing developments.
    After the easement was in place, a Founders Closing was held Sept. 7, 2007. Sand Creek gathered enough from the sale to pay for initial improvements, which will begin this spring with roads, electricity, irrigation development and phone lines.
    Over time Jenkins plans to add a community barn, a horse barn and storage.
    Instead of living in isolation on a ranchette and having total control of 10 acres, the eventual owners of the 99 home sites will each have a 1/99 share in the ranch through their membership in the Sand Creek Ranch Preservation Association.
    Each building envelope is one-quarter of an acre inside of a one-acre parcel the residents will own. The ranch has been determined to be able to support 24 horses in addition to the hay ground, plus some potential fall aftermath grazing, and Jenkins says those horse and 4-H animal allotments will be on a first-come first-serve basis and stock will run in a ranch remuda. “Instead of stomping out 99 one-acre parcels all the horses will share common pasture.”
    To other landowners considering some sort of conservation development, Jenkins says, “First of all, you’ve got to be clear with yourself and with your trusted advisors as to what your tax and long-term ag position is. Is your ranch sustainable or not?”
    He adds that if their ranch had been sustainable, he’s not sure they would have done the development.
    “The next step is to genuinely ask yourself if you want to put up with the uncertainty and the hard work associated with getting from A to Z,” he says. “Are all the costs - financial and emotional - equal to the value of keeping the ranch intact?”
    The Sand Creek development has been planned so every home site will have an unimpaired view forever. “It seems to me that conservation development is a totally superior way - not just a less damaging way - to develop. It’s a win-win situation for agriculture and for the people who want to live in the country. We never could have afforded to make these improvements to the ranch without the development.”
    However, Jenkins says their success has not yet been proven. “Tests remain. We have to show we are smart enough to manage the construction phase well and stage our way through sales so the cash flow doesn’t get ahead of us. When we’re done, we want to have proved that ordinary landowners, who don’t have big income elsewhere to turn to, can use these tools to protect family lands.”
    Sand Creek’s grand opening will be this June, when the development will begin broader marketing to the general public. “That’s when we’ll begin to be able to demonstrate the market, because the jury’s still out on that. I think many people who live in cookie-cutter subdivisions aren’t happy with them,” he says.  “After experiencing rural sprawl for a number of years, the market is becoming more educated. There’s an increasing appetite for conservation-based development solutions that sustain agriculture, open space and habitat in ways that will protect a new owner’s investment in a rural lifestyle.”
    Also, for the first time Jenkins and his wife will be able to build their own home on the ranch. “We never could afford to be out there because one couple couldn’t afford all of the infrastructure. Now we can share that cost and not have to give up the great ranch, and I think that’s the secret.”
    For more information on the Sand Creek Ranch Preservation Company, contact John Jenkins at 307-684-5159 or visit Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A series of public workshops scheduled in Platte and Goshen counties will be held Oct. 11 through Oct. 14 to provide residents the opportunity to voice their opinion on how they would like to see the area grow in the decades to come.
“This goes back to the Building the Wyoming We Want (BW3) program started by the Governor in January 2008,” explains Platte County Commissioner and rancher Dan Kirkbride. “They offered a more local program in the spring of 2009, and both Platte and Goshen County applied and they chose to combine us into a single program.”
The High Plains Initiative states that their process is focused on engaging citizens and stakeholders in activities that explore growth issues, and developing a range of scenarios and activities that explore the potential growth issues and choices. They also focus on developing a range of scenarios based on public preferences, and ultimately hope to create a vision and strategy for Goshen and Platte counties based on the values of the residents.
“We need participants from all walks of life to come together to brainstorm solutions for our long-term future and determine how we can protect our safe, friendly communities in light of an estimated 24 percent growth in population for Platte and Goshen Counties by 2040,” notes High Plains Initiative Steering Committee Co-Chair Cindy Witt.
In preparation for the workshops, phone and computer surveys have been conducted with local residents to provide a baseline of important issues.
“One thing we will discuss at the workshops is what people really like about how things are today,” explains Kirkbride. He adds that both counties are subject to potential oil development, and that topic will also be presented. Growth trends and land use are additional topics on which attendees will have the opportunity to weigh in.
“People want to preserve small, friendly and safe communities with good educational opportunities. They want to improve job availability, health care and would like to see a recreation facility incorporated,” adds High Plains Initiative Steering Committee Co-Chair Julie Kilty.
“Part of the evening will be a time when people can voice their opinion to questions through clickers. Individuals will punch in their response to a question, then the entire groups responses will be displayed on a screen, showing how many were for, how many were against and how many were undecided on a specific question,” explains Kirkbride. “Another part of the evening will be spent on mapping exercises. Prepared maps showing projected growth in the counties will allow people to discuss their preferences in as much as those things can be shaped.”
The information gathered from the meetings will be compiled into a document for public officials to use in making future decisions.
“The document will act as a jumping off point for communities to show how they may want to move forward,” comments Kilty.
“The end product will be useful for public officials at every level. State, county, municipal, district and board members will all have access to it,” adds Kirkbride.
“I encourage everyone from youth to seniors to be involved and attend a workshop to tell us what you want. Whether you are a student, landowner or business owner, this is an opportunity to think together about what we want to preserve so this region will be a great place for our children and grandchildren, built on the values of our countys’ residents,” says Kilty.
“I’m excited, there are over 20,000 county residents invited, and anyone from outside the two counties is more than welcome to sit in,” comments Kirkbride.
“I also think it’s a chance for a lot of people to see both sides of the issues. They can shape the development by providing incentives to grow in certain ways, which I feel is really positive. I hope a lot of people will show up and be a part of discussing these important issues,” adds Kirkbride.
For more information on the public workshops call Mary Hogarty at 307-286-2622. Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

By Jennifer Womack, WLR Managing Editor 

Casper – “In those times if you lived in the rural areas like my family did, you lived there because that’s where you made your living,” said Governor Dave Freudenthal at his recent “Building the Wyoming We Want” forum in Casper. Close to 500 people were in attendance for day one of the two-day conference on Jan. 10.
    “Suddenly, Wyoming is among the 10 fastest growing states in the country,” said introductory speaker and former Maryland governor Parris Glendening. He is now with the Governors’ Institute on Community Design.
    Half of Wyoming’s growth in the past six years, said Freudenthal, has occurred in rural areas.
    “Too big to mow, too small to plow,” was how Sonoran Institute Founder and Director Luther Propst categorized the growth. He said Wyoming’s population grew 62 percent from 1970 to 2000, but the land we occupy grew by 350 percent.
    “Without our planning somebody else will plan our future,” said U.S. Senator John Barrasso. “Unless we dictate what we want for ourselves and then we fight for it, Washington will force its one-size-fits-all mentality on us. We must plan smartly. We must set priorities.”
    “I think for us to go forward in this state and have the kind of place we want to turn over to our children, it’s important that we respect the free market and that we respect private property rights,” said Freudenthal. “I also believe it’s appropriate we hold ourselves to the same standard that we want to hold those who are moving into the state in terms of mineral activity or other kinds of undertakings to, and we’re not doing it.”
    Freudenthal added. “We have higher standards for the operation of the mineral industry than we do for an individual or developer who chooses to develop the land.”
    Freudenthal offered an example of a subdivision where roads are built and county services demanded. Long-term the development may have issues with infrastructure, such as lacking water, and look to entities like the Office of State Lands and Investments or the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC). “All of the sudden,” he said, “we have picked up, through our public side, a great deal of the expense that one would normally, in a free market state, expect to be picked up as part of the free market system that created this development or subdivision in an outlying area where somebody decided to put a house.”
    WWDC Director Mike Purcell told of a recent phone call to his agency during which a homeowner said he lived in a subdivision of nearly 100 homes since the 1970s. Waterlines in the subdivision were leaking due to aging infrastructure and the residents were looking to the state to help. “I had to tell this guy we could help him, but should we?” asked Purcell at Thursday’s conference. “Are we becoming part of the problem?”
    Outlining the process required to modify a wetland to improve habitat as a point of comparison, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust Fund Executive Director Bob Budd pointed out, “We can carve a ranch into 40-acre plots almost overnight.” Noting Wyoming’s history laced with the Homestead Act and an early day push for larger homesteads he said, “We’re back to somehow implying that 40 acres is enough.”
    While public opinion largely supports open spaces, Propst noted, “The kind of development people value the most is the hardest to get approved.” He said counties need a common vision for growth, principals for quality development that begin with public buildings and reach into the community and a commitment to protect private property rights.
    During a question and answer session following the Thursday morning session Casper rancher Doug Cooper questioned where those items, like the estate tax, driving the conversion of agricultural lands to developments applied. “There are places where they’re implementing policies to protect ag,” said Propst.
    “We really don’t have a legislative package,” said Freudenthal of the upcoming session. “What I do have is a firm conviction that talking about managing growth in this state has to start here and not in Cheyenne.”
    “Wyoming is now the envy of every state in the nation,” said Propst of the state’s mineral wealth and positioning to initiate change. “You have a huge opportunity to do the right thing.”
    Attendees spent the afternoon in breakout sessions with plans to return to the conference on Friday, Jan. 11. Watch next week’s Roundup for additional news from the conference.

Hot Springs County – The annual Hot Springs County Resource Tour took place on July 9 with the focus this on the interface between rural and urban development.
    Tour stops included the newly completed Red Rock Business Park in Thermopolis, Lofink Farms and the recently constructed Wyoming Whiskey Distillery. Deputy Chief of Staff of the Governor’s Office and formerly of Thermopolis, Ryan Lance was the keynote speaker for the event.
    Sponsoring organizations included the Hot Springs County Weed and Pest, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service, Hot Springs Conservation District, NRCS and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Division.  
    According to Marvin Andreen of the Hot Springs County Weed and Pest, they have held a tour annually for a number of years, but this year’s tour was different from past tours.
    “We’ve went into different drainages and looked at CRM projects and the ranching industry and different things,” said Andreen. “We just wanted to focus on some of the subdivision issues and some of the interface issues between subdivisions and the rural communities, and what impact it is having. We felt this would be a good way of letting more people see some of the issues we are dealing with. This is a good location for us to do that.”
    During the tour stops representatives from a number of different organizations and government entities covered a wide array of topics associated with rural and urban interface with many focusing primarily on subdivisions. A common theme amongst the presenters was the importance of proper planning in relation to subdivision creation. Many gave specific examples of how communities have been negatively impacted by improperly planned or implemented subdivisions.  
    As an example, Mike Baker, area farmer and irrigation district board member, gave an example of how, until recent legislation was enacted to address the problem, water rights could be given up on subdivided land without notification being given to the affected irrigation district. Thus, those water rights could be permanently lost to lesser rights holders further downstream.
    In addition, Vern Lofink, another area farmer, discussed his family’s diversified farming operation. Local rancher and businesswoman Billy Jo Norsworthy also shared the story of how her business, Lucy’s Sheep Camp, has progressed from a simple idea into a successful business.
    During his speech, Lance covered a variety of topics including the Governor’s “Building the Wyoming We Want” program, his office’s concerns about wind energy development in the state and the importance in maintaining a strong agricultural base in Wyoming’s communities.
    The final tour stop was held in Kirby at the Wyoming Whiskey Distillery. According to Donna Nally of Wyoming Whiskey, who along with her husband Steve is overseeing construction of the distillery and production of the product, they hope to begin distilling their first batch of bourbon within the next several weeks. Nally stated that it is their intention to use as many Wyoming grown products in the production of the bourbon as is possible. This includes Wyoming-grown corn, wheat and barley as well as artesian water from the Worland area. As bourbon distilling is not commonplace in Wyoming, they are not sure how long it will take for the bourbon to mature. It is their best estimate that they will be able to start selling their product in the next four to five years.
    Curt Cox is a field editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..