Prairie Canyon Ranch is one of the ranches in the Interstate 25 corridor in Douglas County protected by a conservation easement. More than 35,000 acres have been protected between Castle Rock and the El Paso County line. (Ford McClave for The Gazette)

Douglas County and The Conservation Fund, a Virginia-based nonprofit group, have jointly funded a purchase of the Ditmars Ranch, a 1,500-acre tract at the south end of Castle Rock.

“I am so incredibly grateful for the conservation easement program that will forever protect our ranch from development and preserve the wildlife and ecological environment forever,” said Don Ditmars. His grandfather purchased land in the county in 1892.

The county and the fund each contributed $1 million. The Douglas Land Conservancy will hold the conservation easement. An evergreen forest, shrubland, grassland and habitats for numerous species of large animals are features of the ranch.

While it will remain a cattle ranch, the property will open for four guided public events annually. There are now more than 35,000 acres of preserved land in the South I-25 Conservation Corridor. The Open Space Sales and Use Tax, first implemented in 1994 as a one-sixth-of-one-cent levy, generated revenue for the county’s contribution.

John Anderson has lived in Douglas County for over six decades and grew up on a ranch near Ditmars. With the conservation easement, “you can see what the country looked like before it was developed,” he said. “It looks natural, as it should be. I think [the conservation easement] is worth it. It’s priceless.”

The ranch, which originally encompassed the present-day Crystal Valley subdivision, has occasionally featured in civic life: the Record Journal of Douglas County reported in March 1930 that the Douglas County Women’s Club held its monthly meeting there. The presentation that day was titled “the Rural Problem, Assimilation of Immigrants, Criminology, Care of Dependent Classes, Legislation for the protection of labor, Compensation Insurance, Social Institutions (the Church, School, Home and Government) and Settlement Work.”

“All left feeling their gratitude to Mrs. Ditmars and [host] Mrs. Seldensticker for the lovely afternoon spent ‘In the Country,' " the report noted.

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