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Decades-old fight over historic Colorado ranch could close

December 19, 2018

DENVER (AP) — A decades-old legal fight over access to a historic southern Colorado ranch may soon reach a conclusion.

The Colorado Sun reports that William Harrison, owner of the San Luis Valley ranch, said Tuesday he is ending his legal efforts to restrict access by heirs of an 1844 Mexican land grant on which the ranch sits.

The 83,000-acre (32,370-hectare) Cielo Vista Ranch includes more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, including Culebra Peak, at 14,047 feet (4,215 meters).

Harrison and previous ranch owners argued that too many San Luis Valley residents were entering the ranch under the Mexican land grant and that some damaged the property.

Harrison had appealed a 2002 Colorado Supreme Court ruling that restored historical access to descendants of homesteaders who used the ranch grounds for grazing and harvesting timber and firewood. The Colorado Court of Appeals denied his appeal in November.

The Mexican land grant was issued before the 1846-48 Mexican-American War and was intended to colonize the San Luis Valley. The U.S. government seized the valley after the war.

Over time, several individuals purchased the grant, including former Colorado Territorial Governor William Gilpin. Colorado became a state in 1876.

In 1960, lumberman Jack Taylor bought the ranch and closed access to the descendants, leading to litigation launched in 1981 that ultimately led to last month’s appeals ruling.

Harrison, heir to a Texas oil fortune, purchased the ranch in 2017. Shortly afterward, researchers finished a year-old study that concluded about 5,000 people had legal access to more than 6,000 parcels of land on the ranch.

“My hope is to move away from litigation and into discussions on how we can live together with a common goal to preserve this precious land for generations to come,” Harrison said in a Tuesday statement.

The San Luis Land Rights Council, representing nine San Luis Valley residents who have had historic access to the ranch, have agreed to meet with Harrison and his legal team.

“I’m surprised this is happening so fast,” said Shirley Romero-Otero, 63, president of the council, which was formed in the 1970s to fight efforts to restrict access.

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Information from: The Colorado Sun, http://coloradosun.com

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