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RBC | Before the oil and gas boom, before the coal mine and soda plant, Rio Blanco County was made up of pioneering ranchers. More than 100 years ago many of these cowboys settled into the area, some digging in for the long haul. Over time many of the ranches were sold off, however a handful still remain. In order to preserve the history and prove the longevity of the ranch, some of them have chosen to participate in the Colorado Centennial Farm Program.
The Centennial Farm program was created in 1986 with the goal of acknowledging the important role agriculture has played in state history and economic development. The program is administered by the State Historical Fund and was the first program of its kind.
In order to qualify as a Centennial Farm a farm or ranch must meet several requirements. Farms or ranches must have remained in the same family continuously for 100 years or more and they must be a working farm or ranch with a minimum of 160 acres or create a minimum of $1,000 in annual sales. Additionally, properties that have four or more well-maintained structures which are at least 50 years old are also eligible for a Historic Structures Award.
Rio Blanco County currently has seven listed Centennial Farms, all on the eastern end of the county. Oldland Ranch is the oldest awarded Centennial Ranch with its start date listed as 1884. They were followed by the Anderson Ranch two years later. Both Hauck Ranch and Burke Brothers Ranch began in 1887 and the Warren, Rector, Keele Farm came a year later. The David Smith Ranch got its roots in 1892 followed by the Villa Ranch in 1915.
While these seven eastern Rio Blanco County ranches are the only ones that have applied and received Centennial status through the program, the west end of the county is dotted with several centenarian ranches as well. The Twin Buttes Ranch, which has been in place since the early 1910s, and their neighbors the Cripple Cowboy Cow Outfit, who homesteaded in 1891, qualify. Both ranches are based south of Rangely and have been owned by contiguous family lines throughout that time.
In addition to recognition as a Centennial Farm long time land owners can also seek out Preservation Tax Credits for the upkeep of their historic properties. Both the state and federal government offer varying incentives depending on the use of the property. At the federal level a 10 percent tax credit is available for the rehabilitation of older, non-historic commercial properties and a 20 percent credit can be sought for the rehabilitation of certified historic buildings used for income-producing purposes. A 20 percent state tax credit is available for the rehabilitation of historic, owner-occupied residences along with a 20 -30 percent state tax credit for the rehabilitation of historic buildings used for income-producing purposes.
In order to qualify for the tax credits property owners must follow rules set by the Secretary of the Interior. The more notable of the rules include property usage requiring the property be used for its historic purpose or be placed in a new use that requires minimal change, as well as extensive rules regarding the preservation of “historic character.”
While the energy sector has certainly had a massive and lasting impact on Rio Blanco, it is important to remember the production agriculture roots of the county. Programs like the Centennial Farms help us acknowledge the cattle, sheep and hay that first built this county.
More information about both the Centennial Farm program and Preservation Tax Credits can be found at historycolorado.org.