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As family ranches decline, Carbondale couple share their story of working the land

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Courtesy of the Coffman Family and AVLT
Rex and JoAnn Coffman sit with their three children outside their homestead in the summer of 1959. The Coffmans recently sold their 141-acre ranch to the Aspen Valley Land Trust.

Rex and JoAnn Coffman have been ranching in Carbondale for more than 60 years.

The couple worked their dairy and beef cattle, raised their three kids on the land and eventually leased to other local ranchers.

According to JoAnn, the work was hard — but that never stopped them.

“You just got up early every day and did your job and went to bed at night and slept good, and kept on going,” she said.

Her husband agreed.

“You sit back after a day's work and admire what you've done and you’re happy about it,” he said.

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Eleanor Bennett
/
Aspen Public Radio
The Coffman Ranch, which sits between the Catherine Store and the Town of Carbondale, includes a roughly mile-long stretch of the Roaring Fork River and 35 acres of wetland.

Now in their 90s, the Coffmans recently sold their 141-acre homestead to the Aspen Valley Land Trust.

The Coffmans contributed more than $1.2 million toward the $6.5 million purchase. Garfield County and Pitkin County also helped fund the initial property purchase.

“We didn’t want to sell to any developers,” JoAnn said. “We did not want to spoil the green, green meadows.”

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Courtesy of the Coffman Family and AVLT
Rex and JoAnn Coffman pose for a festive photograph on the ranch before heading to Carbondale’s annual Mountain Fair in 2021. The couple has been ranching in the valley for 62 years.

The Coffman Ranch sits along the Roaring Fork River just off County Road 100 near the Catherine Store and Carbondale.

AVLT plans to keep some ranching and farming on the land and conserve it for wildlife habitat. The organization is also planning to build public trails and bring local students to the ranch to learn about taking care of the land.

“I think we’ll go to our last days happy that it’s going to stay in agriculture,” Rex said.

The Coffmans will continue to live out their days on the homestead for as long as they like.

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Courtesy of AVLT
This land-use map of the Coffman Ranch property was created by the Aspen Valley Land Trust. The nonprofit plans to keep some ranching and farming on the land and conserve it for outdoor education, public-trail use and wildlife habitat.

AVLT Executive Director Suzanne Stephens first worked with the couple 18 years ago to conserve parts of their land.

She said AVLT is excited to share the ranch with the community.

“I think people are going to fall in love with this place, the same way that we all have,” Stephens said. “And that's the goal — is to give people another place to fall in love with.”

AVLT is continuing its public fundraising effort to cover the cost of the purchase and build out future agriculture and conservation projects.

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Eleanor Bennett
/
Aspen Public Radio
This view of the Coffman Ranch shows historic barns and the homestead. Rex and JoAnn Coffman worked their dairy and beef cattle, raised their three kids on the land and eventually leased to other local ranchers.

The organization’s fundraising goal for this year is $2.5 million, including the $1.2 million it still needs to cover the bridge loan from the initial property purchase.

The conservation group said it is just more than halfway to reaching its ultimate goal of $14 million.

Aspen Public Radio visited the Coffmans at their historic homestead to learn more about what it was like ranching in the valley for six decades.

Listen to their story above.