CSU, UW plan to sell donated ranch

Jan 13, 2012

As the dust around the holidays finally begins to settle, it’s never any fun to find out that a heart-felt gift you gave was returned for cash. It’s bad enough when the returned gift is a sweater or a book, but when it’s the family ranch, the heartache reaches a whole different level. Amy Davis, who oversees the Courtenay C. and Lucy Patten Davis Foundation, understands this first hand.

In 1997, she gifted Colorado State University (CSU) and the University of Wyoming (UW) with her family’s 56,000-acre Y Cross Ranch to serve as a hands-on learning laboratory for animal science students at the two institutions. According to the terms of the gift agreement, the option to dispose of the ranch opened up in September 2011. CSU and UW plan to start marketing the vast property, which covers over 78 square miles, this spring.

Davis has expressed deep regret at the institutions’ choice.

“I was greatly disappointed that CSU and UW have chosen to dispose of the Y Cross Ranch for cash,” Davis told the Rocky Mountain Collegian. “I most certainly regret my decision to gift the Y Cross Ranch given their lack of interest in capitalizing on the educational uses provided by the ranch. The poor handling of this educational gift by CSU and UW should give any other donor pause.”

Located between Laramie and Cheyenne in Horse Creek, WY, the Y Cross was assembled in the 1940s by Davis’ father, Courtenay C. Davis, an attorney from Chicago. At the time of transfer, CSU and UW received not only the ranch property and fixed assets, but also the full complement of Hereford seed-stock cattle, saddle horses, equipment and working capital to operate the ranch for the first year.

Under the terms of the gift agreement, CSU and UW were to jointly run the ranch for 14 years, using it to develop students’ ranch management skills, learn resource use and allocation, develop management strategies, and to develop holistic approaches to domestic and wild animal management, according to CSU literature. Following this initial period, the two institutions might continue to operate the ranch jointly, buy out the other’s interest in the ranch at one-half the 1997 value, or the two owners might sell to a third party and split the proceeds.

Although the ranch has typically hosted one or two UW interns over the summer and has provided a site for special class meetings and research projects, Francis Galey, dean of the College of Agriculture at UW, told Denver’s Channel 7 ABC News that the Y Cross hasn’t received a lot of use for teaching. According to Channel 7, Galey called the ranch “a wonderful asset,” but said the emphasis on keeping it a working ranch has made it a difficult location to play host to students and hold classes.

CSU has indicated that most of the hands-on learning opportunities offered to animal science students are provided at facilities more convenient to Fort Collins.

For Davis, the lack of use represents the squandering of a unique learning opportunity for animal science students, many of whom now come from non-ranching backgrounds. In an interview with the Associated Press, Davis stated, “I don’t think they’ve taken advantage in the last 14 years of what this ranch opportunity should have given to the students.”

In 2009, CSU Research Foundation and UW Foundation, the two titleholders of the ranch, began exploring the possibility of CSU buying out UW’s share following a finding that the ranch was not being utilized much by UW students. According to the Collegian, at that time, Davis offered CSU President Tony Frank the chance to bankroll the buy out. But following several outside offers that reflected substantially higher present-day property values, the two institutions decided to liquidate the ranch.

Davis told Channel 7 that although the estimated value of the Y Cross at the time of the gift was $8.4 million, she now estimates its value at between $20 million and $30 million.

Administrators from UW have asserted that the greatly increased value of the ranch can be put to much better use for students as an endowment to fund agricultural scholarships. Although the ranch was also intended to generate revenue to fund scholarships and internships, it has only provided a total of $12,750 to date, sources at CSU said.

Although Frank has indicated that the sale of the Y Cross is supported by both the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biological Sciences at CSU, some parties have spoken out in objection to the upcoming sale. Y Cross Manager Manny Monserrate told the Collegian that “[t] his is an industry that you can’t learn from the topdown; you have to learn it from the ground up. [Students] have to see it to understand it, to learn it, to feel it. A place like this is critical to education and the agricultural industry.”— Andy Rieber, WLJ Correspondent