Saving a Legacy of Ogden Valley
A Land Conservation Deal to Withstand the Testament of Time
By Brandi Hammon
Not all real estate sales are joyful. Some are actually emotionally painful as a lifetime of memories and generations of history are left behind. Sometimes the legacy is passed to a new steward, and other times it is left to the highest bidder. As the large ranches and open lands of the valley are sold, one beautiful soul went the distance to protect her family’s legacy with the help of the Ogden Valley Land Trust, an equally thoughtful buyer, two attorneys, and two real estate brokers.
The Hinckley Ranch was established in 1957 when Robert and Abrelia Hinckley purchased the ranch. The ranch ultimately ended up in the care of their youngest granddaughter, Kristin Whitaker. I first met Kristin while serving on the board of the Ogden Valley Land Trust. Some years later, Kristin called to help find a new owner for the ranch. Even after that call, I wouldn’t list the ranch for another two years.
This process of letting go of a piece of your soul, of warm summer nights, of treasured horses come and gone, working in the fields, the river flowing then disappearing each year, and family gatherings echoing through the years is a slow unraveling of what is the person and what is the place. The bond slowly releases, but it comes with a price. There's the guilt of moving on and the fear of what lies ahead for the property and for oneself. Kristin was part of the ranch, and will always be, just as those that held it before her. As she grew comfortable letting go, her one request was to protect the land from becoming a future subdivision. The only real mechanism to do this is through a conservation easement.
Conservation easements are placed on the land, and essentially specify what may and may not be done with the land. The enforcement for the easement is done by a third party. In this case, we partnered with the Ogden Valley Land Trust to oversee it for generations to come. While this sounds all well and good, most landowners of ranches don’t care too much for folks telling them what they can and can’t do with their land. As buyers placed offers, the trepidation from the conservation easement and the impact on their future home was proving difficult.
After two failed transactions, the Franzen family came to see the ranch. We spent a few hours walking through the buildings, pointing out the trapdoor that hid extra wives, and exploring the bunkhouse that was drug down from Gurtson Canyon–the result of a failed homestead attempt nearly 200 years ago. The Franzens were excited. With four kids, the ranch seemed to come alive as we wandered down to the river and through the meadows.
The Franzens fell in love with the ranch, struck a deal, and we worked through the terms of the conservation easement. Whatever enthusiasm the purchase started with was tested through the review of 40 pages of legalese. Just for fun, we added in a sprinkle of 2020 mayhem when gale force winds tore through the valley, landing a tree square on the roof of the “Little Red House.” Built from adobe bricks dried right on the property, this little house had stood unwavering with its white lattice trim in perfect prairie red since the 1800’s. With legal tensions and the red house in shambles, we proceeded to negotiate for two months.
With many transactions under my belt, I often say if no one is entirely happy with the outcome, it is fair. This is the most difficult transaction I’ve done, but it is also the one I am most proud of. The Hinckley Ranch recorded on my birthday; the perfect gift.
A testament to time. One day we will all be gone from this picturesque valley, but the land will forever be a standing ranch on the Middlefork River. It will stand through time as a marker to those that loved it and worked it. It will stand as an anchor for the new family that took a chance, who will enjoy starry nights, and have adventures. It welcomes a new family into its home.
I would like to give many thanks to Kristin Whitaker, Marlin Jensen, Gail Meakins, Paul Franzen, Steve Small, Jeff Appel, Tuiono Malakai, the Ogden Valley Land Trust and my team at Mountain Luxury Real Estate & Lodging for all their hard work, trust and commitment to the end goal.