Earlier this month Estes Park’s MacGregor Ranch released a slew of trail-cam photos showing litter, graffiti, destruction of agricultural fences, and even poaching by guests this summer.
A representative of the ranch says these issues make the education and preservation efforts of its board, employees, and volunteers feel wasted and unvalued in a community which the MacGregor family helped form.
“We met with the Chief Ranger for Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) on Aug. 15,” said MacGregor Ranch Office Manager Morgan Morris. “They have been very receptive to our concerns, request, and concepts for moving forward. We are looking forward to working with them more closely to improve the situation.”
The graffiti was found in several areas of the east end of the Black Canyon property, near the Gem Lake Trailhead area.
The parking lot of the trailhead and the property about one mile up at the trail junction for Twin Owls is owned by the National Park Service. Between these portions of land sits MacGregor property which is labeled on trailhead maps as a conservation easement area.
“Hikers heading off trail is a very common occurrence and somewhere along the line a misconception of where MacGregor Falls is located was formed,” Morris said. “Hikers are heading down to Black Canyon Creek, to flood damage, rather than continuing further up the official trail to the actual site of MacGregor Falls. Or they are heading onto the private road just for a wider path until they reach the RMNP boundary.”
Despite there being clear ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted, a fence line, and then continued signage as you enter the road, hikers still manage to wander off the trail, either accidentally or without regard for the signs.
Leaving the official park trail onto agricultural private property is considered, by the state of Colorado, as second-degree trespassing. Doing so on agricultural land with intent to commit a felony, i.e. vandalism or poaching, is a Class 4 felony.
“The poaching was most likely in the fall or winter of 2021,” said Morris. “Carcasses of two poached elk were found in the spring of 2022. Nothing was utilized from the elk’s body and antlers were sawed off the skull of both. Strange anyone would be illegally trophy hunting in an area that sparked additional statewide regulations and penalties with Samson’s Law in 1998.”
As some locals will surely remember, Estes Park was once home to a large elk who would often visit the town and nearby areas. The elk was nicknamed Samson and he became a favorite among the locals, much like Kahuna in RMNP.
Samson weighed in at 1,000 lbs with a beautiful rack of seven by nine point antlers. In 1995 Samson was illegally hunted and poached for trophy purposes by 35-year-old Lakewood resident Randal Francis near a cabin at the entrance of the YMCA of the Rockies, causing an outrage and controversy in town and across the state.
As a result, Colorado passed ‘Samson’s Law’ to deter illegal poaching by placing extremely harsh fines (up to $25,000) on those who illegally trophy hunt animals.
“Our message is the same as any other private landowner in the state: If you want access to areas of MacGregor Ranch please reach out to the organization for written permission,” Morris said.
History of MacGregor Ranch
“All the rest, residue and reminder of my property of whatsoever nature and description, and wheresoever located, I hereby give, advise and bequeath in trust nevertheless to my trustees hereinafter designated, for the purposes as more specifically hereinafter designated,” reads the Last Will and Testament of Muriel Lurilla MacGregor. “It is my will that my ranch shall be maintained and retained insofar as is possible, and that my cattle herd be preserved and maintained insofar as is possible, and that the net proceeds of the production of my ranch and cattle herd be used for charitable and educational purpose.”
According to Morris, the MacGregor Ranch has been organized by the last MacGregor of this lineage to be preserved as an example of high mountain ranching.
“The main priority set forth by Muriel is preservation of the land as an active cattle ranch; additional funds raised by this operation are to be used for charitable and educational purposes,” Morris said. “Fortunately, the Muriel L MacGregor Charitable Trust is a 501c3, nonprofit organization, which allows all donations to the ranch to be tax deductible, and allows us to operate our museum for historic educational tours despite the fact that the cattle operation is not in fact producing additional revenue.”
Tours take visitors through one of the original MacGregor homes, converted to a home museum, and further through the property to explore other original buildings, all of which are nationally registered as the MacGregor Ranch is a National Historic Site.
The Ranch is not National Park, but Rocky Mountain National Park purchased a conservation easement from the Trust so that it could continue to preserve the ranch setting and keep this area as natural as possible for wildlife in areas not used for cattle.
The ranch is still private property but the easement in the Black Canyon area ensures that additional construction will not occur.
The various RMNP trails that lead through MacGregor Ranch were agreed upon during and after the initial conservation easement documentation.
Established trails will lead you to MacGregor Falls, MacGregor Mountain, and around Lumpy Ridge to other locations. You do not need to walk on the dirt road to access any of these locations. The roads near the park boundary are for ranch use.
There may be vehicles and equipment traveling on these roads.
“Remember if you endeavor to stay on the trail in RMNP for the sake of conservation please do the same as you travel through the easement on MacGregor Ranch,” said Morris.
Tours of the ranch property can be reserved on the website, macgregorranch.org. To reach the ranch by phone, call (970)586-3749.
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