40 Stories in 40 Weeks: A North Fork Memorial to Land and People (2011 Reprint)

“1894 – As long as grass grows, spring wind blows and water flows the land will nurture us and we will nurture the land. These acres are dedicated forever to conservation by the Norman Kehmeier family.”

On July 4, 2011, members of the Kehmeier family gathered back on their land from far-flung corners of the world to dedicate a stone memorial with a plaque carrying the words quoted above.

The land has been in the family for over a century (thus the reference to the year 1894 on the plaque, the earliest date of patent). Whoever stewards the land in the future will be reminded of Norman and Dorothy Kehmeier’s vision and determination.

In 2001, Norman and Dorothy were the first in Delta County to conserve their land after the Colorado legislature adopted a transferable tax credit given in exchange for the donation of a conservation easement.

Through successive donations, the Kehmeiers now have a total of 288 acres under easement with Black Canyon Regional Land Trust, and have used the proceeds from the sale of Colorado state tax credits to purchase additional land and to make ranch improvements.

2020 Update: On July 6, 2016, Dorothy passed away peacefully at her home in Eckert, CO at the age of 87. Norman continues to live and work on the family farm with his son, Paul. This year, they are growing forage crops on their property: alfalfa, hay, and triticale, a hybrid of wheat and rye.

The truth is that one, short conversation with Norman produced enough material for a decent-sized biography on the Kehmeier family. For instance, their son, Ralph, was instrumental in founding the Three Rivers Land Trust in Delta back in the ’90s, which then merged with Valley Land Trust from Montrose to become Black Canyon Regional Land Trust, which later merged with Mesa Land Trust in Grand Junction to become yours truly: Colorado West Land Trust. Ralph moved to Germany in 2001, is now married to a native German woman, and programs microprocessors for German automobiles. Paul works for the State Department of Agriculture in addition to operating the family farm, and recently has helped facilitate the Land Trust’s involvement in work to enhance wildlife habitat on private property. (Note: Ralph assisted the author in tweaking a portion of this paragraph that was originally incorrect. He also shared that the last sentence would make a German proud because of its length. That prompted the author to revise the last sentence, which he hopes would still make a German proud.)

During the first decade of this century, Dorothy and Norman became involved in promoting conservation easements as a method of preserving land for agriculture and wildlife. They organized and led a group of conservationists, whose efforts led to many parcels of Delta County farmland being set aside for conservation purposes.

Someday soon we need a proper sit-down with Norman and the many others who have been instrumental in getting us where we are today. There exists a rich history of dedicated landowners and conservationists on the Western Slope, who have quietly worked for decades to sustain our wonderful way of life. Until then, we offer sincere thanks to the Kehmeier family for their dedicated efforts to enhance their land and build an ethic of preservation in Delta County.

Click here to read the stories that were previously published in the 40th anniversary series.