Skiing with Sheep: A Baah-Ffling Tale: How Recreation and Agriculture Can Work Together to Find Profit in the Same Land

By Gordon, Kindra | Parks & Recreation, November 2004 | Go to article overview
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Skiing with Sheep: A Baah-Ffling Tale: How Recreation and Agriculture Can Work Together to Find Profit in the Same Land

Gordon, Kindra, Parks & Recreation

It's been an all too common occurrence: Usually when development for housing or recreation moves in, it is at the expense of agriculture, which is forced to move out.

But near Park City, Utah, Steve Osguthorpe and his family have worked with developers to maintain their sheep operation and make it compatible with the nearby ski resort--The Canyons--which has grown to be North America's fifth largest ski area.

As one would expect, snow skiing is the primary activity on the mountainous land during the winter months, but in the summer and fall, nearly 3,000 sheep graze the grassy ski runs and resort lands--even while tourists enjoy the scenic beauty of the area.

"Recreation and agriculture can be compatible," says Osguthorpe of the unique arrangement. He reports that it's been a win-win situation for his family farm and for the resort.

"The developers of the resort wanted to keep the area natural, and visitors really seem to enjoy seeing the sheep out grazing," he says. Keeping agricultural use on the land has also helped the resort keep its taxes lower.

For the Osguthorpe family, the arrangement has meant they can stay on the ranch that Steve's father first established in the late 1940s. As another benefit, Osguthorpe says, "It's an opportunity to show the public that we ranchers are stewards of the land and want to take care of it better than anyone else."

A Long History of Stewardship

Of the region that now attracts more than 500,000 visitors each year, Osguthorpe admits many people might have sold their ranch and moved to a less touristy area, but he says his family has made the decision to stay. He tells the story of his father, Dr. D. A. Osguthorpe, who graduated as a veterinarian from Colorado State University in 1943, and had the foresight to see that Park City would likely to be a resort town someday.

"From his experience in Colorado, he saw places like Estes Park and recognized the potential in Utah. When he came to Park City, he was the vet for horses used in the mines, and eventually he was able to buy seven ranches around Park City from 1945 to 1951," Osguthorpe says. "My dad always knew the potential of the area for recreation development."

In the early years, agriculture was the primary land used and the Osguthorpe family operated a dairy. Steve added sheep to the farm when he was in junior high. After college, Steve returned to the family farm, married a local Park City girl in the 1970s, and they continued to operate the farm as they raise six sons and one daughter.

However, by the late 1980s, Park City began to develop around them. When the road needed to be widened, the Osguthorpe's 200 head dairy was taken through a process called condemnation. That means that the government can take private land for public use, if they pay a fair price. Then, through the same process, 40 acres of their land was taken for a middle school. "We haven't sold any ground, it's been taken through condemnation." says Osguthorpe.

Eventually, the Osguthorpes relocated their farm headquarters to the town of Delta 140 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Today, this ranch serves as their winter location, where they also operate a feedlot for cattle and their Columbia- Rambouilet crossbred sheep. But in the summer months, livestock still graze up near Park City on Forest Service permits and on the Osguthorpe land the ski resort now has access to through an easement.

"Our family made the decision if we were going to farm and ranch here, we had to get involved in recreation, or else sell out and leave," Osguthorpe adds.

Making It Work

Despite the changing of the times from agricultural to development uses, the Osguthorpes have found ways to make the multiple land uses work.

First established as a small ski area, the resort that neighbored their land was bought out by the American Skiing Company and renamed The Canyons about eight years ago.

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