40 Stories in 40 Weeks: Choosing Conservation (2001)

Original story and photo by Leigh Fortson.

“I wouldn’t be a very good neighbor if I had to live in a subdivision,” Dixie Williams admits as she gazes over the 200 acres of ranchland that her father bought when she was a child, some eighty years ago. “I’d still loan you a cup of flour, but I’m grateful that I don’t have to and can keep things the way they are.”

Dixie’s western family heritage spans back generations. Her grandparents traveled with Brigham Young to Utah, and her parents were married in Moab. Shortly after, they settled in Fruita where Dixie was born. Her father was wrangling cattle on that day, and someone had to chase him down on horseback to tell him the news. “But they got it wrong,” she says with playful eyes. “They told him I was a boy. He was pretty surprised when he found out I wasn’t.”

Her family summered their 900 cattle at a ranch in the Paradox Valley where Dixie’s grandfather was the first white man to be buried. Her father’s horse-drawn buggy carried equipment around both ranches, and today rests peacefully among five or six other old rigs in her front yard. She’s decorated a large wooden storage shed with horseshoes, brands, antlers, birdhouses and other reminders of the life she’s lived and loved.

“I know it doesn’t mean anything to anyone else,” she says reflecting on the old buggy, “but I just love it.  I’m fascinated by it.”

Dixie’s roots run deep, and there are reminders of it everywhere. Because of that—and ten years of living in Denver—she decided to voluntarily sell the rights to develop her land. In fact, hers was the first conservation easement in a cooperative partnership between Mesa County, the Grand Junction, Fruita, Palisade, and the Mesa Land Trust. This buffer zone, as it is called, aims to preserve agricultural lands between the developments of the Grand Valley.

“I’d hate to see this ground all torn up,” Dixie says.  “I’m so happy I had the opportunity to do this.”

When her neighbors learned what she did and how pleased she was about it, several of them followed suit. Now, 17 buffer area conservation agreements ensure that 750 acres of farms and natural habitat will also remain, adding to Dixie’s delight and her desire to keep a piece of our past, present.

2020 Update: This land will forever remain part of western Colorado’s rural heritage because of Dixie’s decision to       conserve her land. Prior to her passing in 2011, she sold the property to Mark and Lucy King who winter 150 head of cows on the land, grow hay, and utilize a crop rotation system for wheat, corn and oats. For the young family, purchasing conserved land enabled them to get a start in farming that wouldn’t have been available otherwise.

“It’s hard for a young fellow to get started in farming,” says Mark. “Purchasing conserved land allowed me to get a start and raise our children in the country. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.”