North Middle Fork Ranch (NMFR), 45 minutes outside Boulder between Lyons and Rocky Mountain National Park, is 600± acres of private, pristine and beautiful mountain land within the Roosevelt National Forest. Just off the dramatic South St. Vrain Canyon, NMFR lies at the end of a Forest Service Road and features undulating lush meadows, ponderosa and aspen forests, significant rock formations, and more than two miles of Dry St. Vrain Creek.
NMFR possesses unusual Boulder County-granted entitlements to construct sizable residential and recreational buildings. The owner may select any two of four outstanding surveyed building envelopes for improvements. On one site, a private residence and related buildings totaling 15,000 square feet are allowed; on the second site, the owner may construct up to 35,000 square feet of equestrian, agricultural and other buildings, including a 2,000-square-foot caretaker’s residence. A total of 50,000 square feet of buildings may be built.
In the context of Boulder County’s typically tight restrictions on any new homes in the mountains, these vested rights are extremely valuable. North Middle Fork Ranch represents a rare chance to construct - with minimized risks and constraints - a high-end residential-recreational compound that is both remote and within commuting distance from Boulder.
Offered in cooperation with Rob Feder, Conservation Land Inc.
Just the Facts
- 600± deeded acres
- 12± miles from Lyons and 25± miles from Boulder
- Nearly surrounded by Roosevelt National Forest
- Within 30 minutes of Rocky Mountain National Park
- 2+ miles of Dry St. Vrain Creek
- U.S. Forest Service easement to use and improve Forest Road as residential access
- Access route to all building envelopes pre-approved by Boulder County
- Vested rights to construct buildings, including two residences, totaling 50,000 square feet
- Choice of pre-approved building envelopes
- Abundant elk, bear and other wildlife
- Outstanding native plant communities
- Heavy timber
- Scenic views
- Elevations range from 6,300 feet to 8,200 feet
Ranch History and Vested Development Rights
North Middle Fork Ranch was for generations the summer unit of the historic Hall Ranch, situated within the lush grazing lands of the surrounding Roosevelt National Forest. The lower Hall Ranch headquarters, between NMFR and Lyons, is now one of Boulder County’s premier Open Space destinations for hiking, mountain biking, spectacular red rock formations, and Longs Peak and Continental Divide panoramas.
Boulder County once sought to acquire NMFR to preserve its exceptional natural areas, native plant communities, and integral role in the surrounding national forest landscape and habitat. Unwilling to sell at that time, the current owners negotiated a mutually advantageous deal with the County. The County purchased a conservation easement interest that protects the land’s outstanding natural and scenic values, as well as continued established private agriculture, riding, hunting and recreation uses. As part of that transaction, the owner negotiated enhanced and simplified development rights, and a resulting streamlined land use process, attaching permanently to the ranch.
Through a county “Subdivision Exemption” process completed simultaneously with and as part of the conservation easement sale, the owner acquired vested property rights to select for development two of four prime building envelopes created on North Middle Fork Ranch. On one selected lot, the owner may construct a private residence and related buildings totaling 15,000 square feet; on the second selected lot, the owner may construct equestrian, agricultural and other related buildings, including a caretaker’s residence of up to 2,000 square feet, totaling 35,000 square feet. Within the larger conservation area outside the four generous building envelopes, the owner may construct up to 1,000 square feet of loafing sheds, plus corrals, pasture fencing and horseback riding obstacles, and develop through riding a complex of trails, all to accommodate the permitted equestrian, agricultural and recreational uses of the ranch. The four available development lots created under the Subdivision Exemption provide the owner choice and great flexibility for locating future improvements. It is important to note that all such lots, and the entire North Middle Fork Ranch, must remain under single ownership.
The County also approved the use of existing Forest Road 186, from Spruce Drive off South St. Vrain Drive (Colorado Highway 7), for residential and related access to North Middle Fork Ranch. To secure legal access to the property over the national forest, and the right to improve the Forest Road to County driveway standards as required for the permitted NMFR improvements, the landowner obtained a Forest Road Easement from the U.S. Forest Service.
Because these comprehensive development rights are vested and granted by the County as part of the consideration for the landowner’s preserving some of the most exceptional natural features of North Middle Fork Ranch under a conservation easement, the County’s future discretion under its land use approval processes when building applications are submitted is quite limited.
With its completed land planning, extensive vested development rights, and legal access over the national forest, North Middle Fork Ranch presents a unique private development opportunity in the mountains of Boulder County. With minimized time and risk to obtain required approvals and building permits, a purchaser can quickly begin realizing the property’s exceptional residential and recreational potential.
Conservation Easement & Vested Development Rights
For many ranch buyers, the presence of a conservation easement raises questions and concerns. All other things being equal, the natural preference is to acquire land with the fewest potential restrictions on its future use and development. The North Middle Fork Ranch landowner took steps to change this calculation.
It is important to emphasize the context in which the NMFR conservation easement was granted by the landowner to Boulder County. The easement was sold as part of a heavily negotiated transaction with the County that created substantial value and flexibility for the owner. The County had sought to acquire full ownership of NMFR, but the ranch was not for sale at that time. While the property was then used solely for horseback riding, hunting, hiking and other outdoor recreation, the owner understood that the land’s ultimate highest and best use – its greatest economic value – lay in the opportunity to develop a significant private high-end residential and recreational compound for one family. The owner, therefore, took advantage of the County‘s keen desire to keep NMFR intact and the bulk of the 600± acres largely in their historic condition: a conservation easement interest was sold to Boulder County for a combination of cash and enhanced rights to maximize the ranch’s private value, with minimized County discretion or control over the end product.
Boulder County is a notoriously difficult place in which to build, particularly when it comes to new homes in the mountains. The County’s typical enforcement of onerous, expensive and time-consuming land use processes on mountain properties often frustrates landowners’ goals to build what they want, where they want. Many otherwise attractive homesites in the mountains of Boulder County have been rendered practically uneconomical to develop by the County’s restrictive exercise of its regulatory powers.
The significance of the permanently vested development rights negotiated simultaneously with and as part of the conservation easement sale to Boulder County cannot be overemphasized. These vested rights allow a future owner to plan, design, permit and build, expeditiously, what otherwise would have been virtually impossible to achieve in this location.
Rather than a burden on the landowner’s opportunity to develop and use the property as desired – the usual knock on conservation easements – the net result of Boulder County’s acquisition of a conservation easement interest in NMFR was the landowner’s right to build far more significant improvements, in some of the choicest locations on the property, and to convert what would otherwise be a typically difficult County approval and permit issuance exercise into a comparatively simple and streamlined affair.
In short, the County’s desire to acquire a conservation easement over North Middle Fork Ranch created an opportunity to gain freedom for the landowner that far outweighs the restrictions associated with the conservation easement. The highest and best, most valuable private use of the property is what the conservation easement also contemplates and allows. “Unique“ is an overly-used term, but is particularly applicable to North Middle Fork Ranch: Build the home and improvements of your choosing, essentially what and where you desire on your selection of two of four choice, generous, surveyed sites, within a private, large and lush mountain landscape in Boulder County just 45 minutes from downtown Boulder. That’s unique.
If you want to build a truly sizable home in the mountains of Boulder County, but away from it all, this is probably your best (and perhaps only) chance. Or, if all you’re looking for is to build a cabin or smaller getaway home, you can create and enjoy the “caretaker’s residence” and hold the permanently vested rights to construct the larger improvements as a long-term investment or exit strategy.
Like other prime, beautiful and desirable, fast-growing and high-value locations in Colorado, Boulder County seems to get more restrictive with each passing year. A property of NMFR’s size, quality, location, and attached vested development rights will become more and more rare as time goes by.
Nearby Lyons hosts a series of summer bluegrass festivals and is a major hub, along with Telluride, for Colorado’s acoustic music scene. Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, is a bustling mix of boutiques, shops, restaurants, pubs and local businesses serving visitors to one of America’s most popular national parks. Boulder, of course, is a world-famous destination in its own right, home to the University of Colorado Buffaloes, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the laboratories of the federal National Institute of Standards and Technology, myriad high-tech, biotech and aerospace industries, and all the restaurants, cultural amenities and pedestrian pleasures – such as the famous Pearl Street Mall – for which this vibrant city at the base of the Flatirons is famous. And the endless offerings of Denver, the fast-growing “Queen City of the Plains,” is just another half hour away.
Acreage (Deeded & Leased)
It’s no accident that Boulder and Longmont regularly make the lists of the most livable and healthiest cities in the United States. The weather is terrific, the outdoor activities are endless, locally sourced organic foods are plentiful, and culture, art and music abound. Having the spectacular Rocky Mountain National Park just up the road doesn’t hurt either.
Home to the University of Colorado, which boasts five Nobel laureates and numerous nationally recognized academic departments, Boulder has been a magnet for learners, seekers, artists, musicians and entrepreneurs for more than a century. With a population of about 100,000 people, the city has the feel of a small town and the amenities and sophistication of a larger city. Scientific and spiritual organizations co-exist in an atmosphere of tolerance and open-minded learning. Naropa University, a secular Buddhist-oriented school founded by Allen Ginsberg and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, is here. So are the National Institute of Standards and Technology, home to the atomic clock, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
The spectacular Flatirons, mountainous rock formations of conglomerate sandstone, frame Boulder’s western edge, beckoning outdoor enthusiasts. The region is rich with hiking, mountain biking, and horse trails, as well as sporting activities of every kind. The Pearl Street Mall, a pedestrian avenue of shops and restaurants, pulses with activity throughout the seasons. Perhaps no city in America has more places that sell healthful organic food and homeopathic remedies.
Over the years, Boulder has been named “Best Running City,” “Thinnest City,” and “No. 1 Green & Clean City.” Seventeen magazine rated it “Top 10 Place for Teens.” Redbook magazine mentioned it as one of the “Top 10 Great Cities for Working Mothers,” Men’s Journal ranks Boulder “Best Overall City,” and Boulder is one of Outside magazine’s “Best Outside Towns.”
Lyons - Gateway to the Rockies
Rivers and roadways converge in historic Lyons, the self-named “Double Gateway to the Rockies.” More than just a quaint town en route to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, Lyons is a charming and vibrant village with health food stores, homeopathic medicine shops, artists, and live music performances. The town’s historic district boasts 15 original sandstone buildings built with rock quarried from the area. The North and South St. Vrain Creeks come together to form the St. Vrain River, a superb stream for fly-fishing, rafting and tubing. South St. Vrain Canyon and Button Rock Reservoir attract rock climbers of all levels. Some of the best mountain biking trails on the Front Range are located here. Free live music is a way of life in Lyons, where impromptu fiddle sessions are legendary, and the annual Planet Bluegrass Musical Festival is a down-home, good time for music lovers of all types.
Longmont is the practical sister to Boulder’s New Age enthusiasts and Lyon’s arty charmer, but the town is no less loved by its residents, outdoor enthusiasts and business developers. With a population of about 86,000 people, Longmont has grown from an agricultural community to a hub of modern technology with Seagate, DigitalGlobe, Amgen and General Electric’s energy control solutions business. A Federal Aviation Administration complex is also located here. The town has extensive shopping, good public schools, and convenient health care.
The town of Estes Park, nestled at the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, is one of Colorado’s most popular summer tourist destinations. With 6,000± permanent residents, Estes Park has a thriving art and music scene and stellar restaurants. The luxurious Stanley Hotel, a 1909 Edwardian retreat made famous (or infamous) by Stephen King’s The Shining, attracts guests from around the world.
Rocky Mountain National Park
The eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park is about a half-hour drive from North Middle Fork Ranch. Arguably one of the nation’s most spectacular preserved wildernesses, Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses 415 square miles of jagged peaks, alpine meadows, pristine mountain lakes, rivers, streams and abundant wildlife. Trail Ridge Road, which crosses the park, is the highest continuous vehicular road in the United States, running for more than eight miles at 11,000 feet above sea level and peaking at an exhilarating 12,183 feet. The park has numerous campsites and backcountry trails.
Eldora Mountain Resort
“Friends don’t let friends drive I-70,” or so they say at Eldora Mountain Resort. Just 21 miles west of Boulder in the foothills near Nederland, Eldora Mountain Resort offers great skiing without the hassles of Interstate 70 traffic. The base area is 9,200 feet above sea level with the peak elevation at 10,800 feet above sea level. The resort receives an average of 300 inches of snow a year and also has one of Colorado’s best snowmaking systems. Its famously groomed runs range in difficulty from beginner slopes to double black diamond trails.
Facts at a Glance
Address: 575 Spruce Drive, Lyons, Colorado
Nearest town: Lyons, CO, 12 miles
Nearest city: Boulder, CO, 25 miles to downtown
Property Taxes: About $266/year as undeveloped land
Acreage: 600 ± Acres
Terrain: Mix of open meadows, mountain forests, creeks, drainages, and rocky outcrops
Elevation: 6,300 – 8,200 feet above sea level
Conservation Easement: Yes, along with vested development entitlements
- Denver International Airport (DIA). Denver County. Commercial aviation with domestic and international flights on major carriers. 70 miles, with a drive time typically under 90 minutes via CO 7, US 36 and E-470.
- Boulder Municipal Airport (BDU). Boulder County. General aviation, open to the public, no control tower. 30 miles, with a drive time of about 45 minutes via CO 7 and US 36.
- Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (BJC). Jefferson County. General aviation, open to the public, control tower. 40 miles, with a drive time of about an hour via CO 7 and US 36.
Except as may be reasonably necessary for management of the property or for emergency purposes, outside the two building lots selected by the owner for improvements, motorized vehicle use on North Middle Fork Ranch is confined to existing ranch roads. Motorized off-roading is not permitted because of its potential adverse impacts on NMFR’s exceptional natural features and values.
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Our Hall and Hall broker, Randy Shelton, kept us in the loop as though it were. Our sale hinged on that of larger surrounding parcels, and when an initial offer fell through, Randy went back to the drawing board and found a suitable buyer who shared our values. That meant a lot to us, as our property had been in the family for more than 100 years.
From the first time I walked through the door, I sensed Hall and Hall’s highest goals were to understand who I was and build a relationship, to understand what made my property special, and to find the buyer. Their discipline and focus was apparent. Throughout the entire process, their approach towards reality was different from the experiences I have had previously. Genuine would be the word I would use to describe everyone at Hall and Hall.
I interviewed 4 agents and selected Hall and Hall because of the agency’s reputation for expertise in high end ranch property and global marketing. I had the pleasure of working with Tim Murphy on the sale of a family property in the Paradise Valley, Montana. We believe he represented our family interests well and contributed to the integrity of the property by joining together buyer and seller and a shared love for this special place in our lives.
Bill McDavid was an outstanding and very patient partner in this sale. His expertise in the market and marketing of the property was excellent. I would use him again in a heartbeat to either buy or sell a ranch property.
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In 1988, Joel Leadbetter became a partner at Hall and Hall where he has been instrumental in completing complicated, high-profile deals such as the recent sale of Texas’ historic 512,000-acre Waggoner Ranch.
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I had been looking for the right property for several years and Elliott Davenport’s insight into the quail plantation market and his ability to think strategically was instrumental in helping me find our new place. Elliott was helpful on all technical aspects of contracting and due diligence. His post closing help with hiring and contractors made the process much easier as well.
I have purchased 4 ranches through Hall and Hall over the past 20 years, and there is simply no other team in the world like them. They have navigated complexity, professionally attended to every detail, operated with fairness and integrity, and demonstrated an unwavering commitment to me– whether representing me or the person on the other side of the deal.