Rusks earn lifetime achievement award

Randy and Claricy Rusk, Wet Mountain Valley ranchers and conservation pioneers, are this year’s winners of the Stuart P. Dodge Award for lifetime achievement.

The award, part of the Southern Colorado Conservation Awards presented by Palmer Land Trust, recognizes the Rusks’ vision, leadership and influence in the ranching community in support of land conservation. 

San Isabel Land Protection Trust and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust nominated the Rusks for the award. A special blue-ribbon committee made the final selection.

The two land trusts cited the Rusks’ efforts to conserve the rich ranching and open space heritage that has long defined the Wet Mountain Valley. Spurred by population growth and development pressures in the valley in the 1990s, the Rusks sought to protect the area’s ranching, ecology and quality of life through conservation easements.

They partnered with the Colorado Cattlement's Agricultural Land Trust and the Trust for Public Land in 2002 to ensure the conservation of 1,500 acres of Rusk Hereford Ranch, protecting it from development. Randy's parents, Jean and Harvey Rusk, founded the ranch.

But Randy and Claricy didn’t stop there.

Their actions led neighboring landowners to follow suit. Today, more than 10,000 acres of contiguous ranchland, wildlife habitat and open space have been protected in the valley and more than 25,000 acres in Custer County.

And their influence reached beyond the Wet Mountain Valley. Randy served on the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust board of directors from 2003 to 2016. He was chairman of the group’s Lands Committee from 2004 to 2016. During his tenure as chairman, the CCALT protected more than 335,000 agricultural acres throughout the state. Claricy served on San Isabel's board during the same period and similarly participated in all of San Isabel's conservation projects through those years.

The Rusks also have modeled a conservation ethic on their ranch near Westcliffe. In 2004, they were recognized by the Sand County Foundation with the Leopold Conservation Award. The award – named in honor of Aldo Leopold, the late conservationist and author of “A Sand County Almanac” – recognizes a producer who sets an outstanding example of stewardship and conservation. In 2006, Newsweek magazine named Randy Rusk one of “15 People Who Make America Great.”

Today, their son Tate and his family are poised to keep the family operation running and thriving into the future.

Janet Smith

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  • “Because San Isabel is pro-agriculture, we were able to work closely with them to craft the contract we felt comfortable with. It allows us to capture revenue off the land while still living on it and maintaining full autonomy of ownership.”

    – Elin Parker Ganschow, Music Meadows Ranch and Sangres Best