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Baca Ranch sale not quite a done deal

Brief by Central Staff

Public lands – March 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine

One major hurdle to the expansion of Great Sand Dunes National Park may have been cleared, although it’s too early to be sure.

That hurdle was the 100,000-acre Baca Ranch south of Crestone. The plan was for the Nature Conservancy to buy it, then sell it to the federal government. Part of the ranch would be added to the national park, while other acreage would become a national wildlife refuge.

The sale had been stalled for several reasons. One was money, and another was a lawsuit in federal court between the ranch owners — primarily between Gary Boyce, the managing partner, and Farallon Capital Management, the major investor.

(Among other things, Farallon manages some university endowment funds, among them Yale’s, and thus the recent controversy about that institution’s involvement.)

Most of that has been settled now, and an agreement to sell the ranch for about $31 million was reached in January.

“Farallon has signed it, and so have I,” Boyce said. But there’s a possible complication, he cautioned. Peter Hornick, a New York venture capitalist, owns 1/8 of the partnership that owns the Baca, “and he hasn’t agreed to the sale yet.”

If the deal goes through, the actual sale will likely occur in August, he predicted. Boyce and Farallon paid about $16 million for the Baca seven years ago, but the $31 million sale price “doesn’t mean we’re doubling our money on this investment, since all told, we’ve put about $22 million into this.”

That extra $7 million went toward developing and promoting the “No Dam Water Project,” which proposed tapping into the deep aquifer under the ranch and selling 150,000 acre-feet of water — at $5,000 an acre-foot — to Front Range users.

They never did file for such water rights, which were passionately opposed throughout the San Luis Valley, where irrigators feared this would reduce their water supply.

Assuming the Baca does change hands this summer, it’s not clear who’ll be buying what. In making the Dunes a National Park in 1999, Congress appropriated $10 million for buying the Baca. The Nature Conservancy has some of its own money to buy the ranch, and the Colorado State Land Board, as well as Great Outdoors Colorado, will also be contributing to the purchase.

But will they just hold it until there’s a congressional appropriation — which might not happen for a long time, now that the federal budget is running at a deficit and a war against terrorism is a priority? Or will they have to piece it out and manage the property themselves?

As for Boyce, he still owns about 12,000 acres of ranchland. “We start calving in a couple of weeks,” he said in early February, “and that should keep me busy and out of trouble for a while.”