Who owns Colorado's big spreads: A look inside Colorado's largest ranches.

Author:Titus, Stephen
 
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KIP FORBES DRIVES HOME FROM HIS FAMILY'S NAMESAKE BUSINESS -- FORBES magazine in Manhattan -- daydreaming all the while about his Colorado getaway

The 51-year-old middle child and his siblings are heir to their fathers business empire, which includes the magazine and other businesses, a Moroccan palace, an island in Fiji and the largest privately held, contiguous stretch of land in Colorado, the Forbes Trinchera Ranch.

"It's a very special place that we are very privileged to be the custodians of," Kip Forbes said. "It is definitely out of the ordinary; each property in its own way is like a Faberge egg. Each is very special."

Ask anyone who owns a large parcel of land in Colorado -- even corporate owners -- and they have a similar feeling about their slice of the state.

But with property values rising faster than anywhere in the nation, and development pressure coming from nearly every corner, hanging on to unbroken stretches of scenery in Colorado is getting more and more difficult.

While most of the largest tracts are owned by the famously wealthy like Liberty Media's John Malone or the Forbes family, several hundred of the state's largest private parcels are still in the hands of Colorado families that have held their ranch or farm for more than 100 years.

At first glance, this doesn't seem like such a big deal. After all, who wouldn't want to hang on to a chunk of land with heart-stopping views in every direction and a wealth of recreation and city conveniences just a few hours away?

But the problem is not a question of desire. It is more a matter of need.

On top of rising land prices come rising taxes, particularly estate taxes, and according to several real estate agents throughout the state, any land in Colorado that isn't a vertical hillside is worth at least $2,500 an acre. That means a 1,000-acre family farm -- a spread barely big enough to break even as an agricultural business and nearly hopeless for raising cattle -- is worth about $2.5 million for development purposes.

Estate taxes on that land can be $700,000 To a struggling farmer with one nostril under water, a tax bill that size is enough to make him cry subdivision.

One answer to the tax question is to place a conservation easement on the land. The program allows landholders to restrict how their property can be used, thereby reducing the value and the tax liability

An easement is held by an outside organization with an interest in maintaining the land for agriculture or as open space,...

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