Montrose Daily Press, August 9, 2023- Preserving the picturesque North Fork Valley for future generations is at the heart of a new partnership between Colorado West Land Trust and the Bradley family.
This collaboration permanently protects approximately 55 acres of pristine fruitland in eastern Delta County, ensuring the preservation of Black Bridge Winery and Orchard Valley Farms.
The partnership helps secure important local food production, provides opportunities for the next generation, protects habitat along the North Fork of the Gunnison River, and protects scenic views in the North Fork region.
Nestled on the western flank of the West Elk Range of the Southern Rocky Mountains, Black Bridge Winery is a family owned and operated working farm which features orchards, vineyards, a winery, a farm market, and a wine-tasting room open to the public seasonally.
With its frontage on Colorado Highway 133, the property provides a scenic glimpse of the pastoral North Fork Valley against the backdrop of the iconic Mt. Lamborn and Landsend of the West Elk Mountains. A part of the West Elks American Viticulture Area (AVA), the region is recognized as one of only two AVAs in the state, underscoring its significance as a wine-grape growing region.
The journey of the Bradley family to owning their orchard is one of dedication and vision. Lee and Kathy Bradley, both passionate educators, moved to Paonia in the early 1980s to teach at the local school. Amid the coal mining boom, Lee found himself managing farms owned by a mining company.
When the mines eventually shut down, the opportunity arose for the Bradleys to purchase an orchard Lee had been managing. They invested their savings into the land, securing a bright future for their son, Ryan, who now helps run the operation alongside his wife, Kendal. With the recent addition of their son, Beau, Ryan is motivated by the desire to build a legacy for the next generation, leading to the decision to place a conservation easement on the land.
“After we closed the conservation easement my dad and I both felt a real sense of pride. We felt like we had become agricultural leaders of the western slope by conserving our land,” Ryan said, “To me, the pinnacle is how you manage your land and keep it that way. It’s more important than anything else.”
This conservation easement not only ensures the preservation of open space and natural habitat on the North Fork of the Gunnison River which borders the property, but also allows the Bradley family to share their farm with others. While teaching agriculture at a nearby high school, Kendal would invite her students to learn and experience the operation firsthand. Customers are welcome to pick fruit on the land, fostering a connection to where their food comes from, and enjoy the market’s produce and wine while soaking in the serene views of the Black Bridge stretching across the North Fork Gunnison River and the West Elks range punctuating the horizon.
Reflecting on their journey, Kathy shared, “I think all that we’ve done is so worth it now. It’s just a giant payoff with all our family here,” and Kendal agreed, “Beau gets to run around in the same place his daddy grew up.”
Ryan added, “And the farm will always be here now. Even if we fail, somebody else can step in.”
This collaborative conservation effort contributes to the protection of the region’s unique landscape and cultural heritage. The North Fork Valley is an area known for its scenic beauty, fertile agricultural lands, and thriving winemaking community. The 55-acre conservation easement joins 27 other nearby conservation easements totaling over 6,000 acres, demonstrating the community’s commitment to preserving the valley’s remaining open spaces.
“We are so thankful to collaborate with the Bradley family on this remarkable conservation project. This partnership represents our commitment to safeguarding the North Fork’s agricultural lands, precious riparian habitats, and scenic landscapes,” CWLT Conservation Manager Ilana Moir said. “This conservation easement stands as a testament to the power of community-driven conservation, and we are honored to be part of its protection.”
This conservation easement holds deep importance in an area where orchards have disappeared over the years. Preserving Black Bridge Winery not only protects a piece of history but also secures a bright future for local food production and the next generation. In a time when the connection to food sources has grown distant, the easement protects a unique opportunity for people to witness firsthand where their food comes from.