In the spring of 2008, having just moved to Paonia the year prior, a local farmer contacted me with an idea for a film. A little ball of energy and enthusiasm, she wanted to paint a picture and illustrate via moving pictures and sound the forgotten art and craft of eating locally. There was a new word for it at the time, Locavore, and over the next year we embarked on one of the most fulfilling film projects I have ever been involved with. That woman, Lynn Gillespie along with her husband Tom, own and operate The Living Farm on Stewart Mesa outside Paonia. The farm remains a shining example of what can be done with just a small parcel of land, hard work, and good water rights! Today much of the food produced on the farm is funneled to Paonia’s Living Farm Cafe, operated by Lynn’s son Mike Gillespie. The farm can also be toured throughout the summer with advanced notice.
“Locavore: Local Diet, Healthy Planet” is feature length and is filled with revelations on the benefits of locally sourced food, many of which long forgotten with the rise of global industrial agriculture. Local North Fork Valley stalwarts of the Locavore movement featured in the film include: Zephyros Farm on Bone Mesa, Desert Weyr farm on Garvin Mesa, Rivendell Farm in Austin, Bernedette Stech’s wonderful little family farm on Pitkin Mesa, as well as neo pioneer Brook LeVan’s sustainable settings in Carbondale. Its also features some super snappy, original music by ex-Paonian Bill Powers!
The film is still available on DVD for purchase but several years ago Lynn decided to make it free to the public. Recently I reposted the film to Youtube and its available for you all to view! “Locavore: Local Diet, Healthy Planet” is every bit as relevant as it was 10 years ago and even more so. Not only is it a love letter to organic small scale farming on Colorado’s western slope its also a passionate and inspiring and will no doubt get you excited about next year’s garden! Enjoy!
After a long, historically dry, smokey, and uncomfortable summer in western Colorado autumn has roared in like a lion! It seems we went from hot to cold in a matter of days and the high country has already received a nice dose of moisture in the form of rain and then snow. Hallelueuia! (Lets hope it keeps on coming!) My family and I loaded up the family truckster and took a nice respite to Box Canyon Lodge in Ouray just as the temperatures plummeted. This made for excellent hotspringing weather. We took a drive up the Camp Bird road and were turned back by slushy, snowy road conditions as flakes fell and coated the golden leaves that were still on the aspens and cottonwoods. My snow slut friends have been posting faceshots of opening day at Wolf Creek ski area in the south San Juans (Jealous). Here’s to a great start to a snowy Colorado winter!
Much like the welcome cool fall temperatures have descended on the Western Slope, so too it seems we are experiencing a potential cool down in the hot real estate market. Beyond the data which I will share, rumblings in our office meetings at RE/MAX Mountain West in Paonia indicate multiple price drops in recent weeks, fewer new listings on the market, and reduced buyer activity. Are we transitioning from a hot seller’s market to more of a buyers market as we approach the 2018 midterm elections and winter? It would seem that way, especially if one takes into account the fact that Denver’s market, also a driver of the North Fork Valley real estate sales as of late, is also cooling off. Here’s a good spot for my disclaimer! All predictions herein are my opinion of course but all data and statistics are more or less accurate. Feel free to call B.S. next year if my predictions fall flat!
Comparing August 1st thru October 17th between 2017 and 2018 (about the last 75 days) median home sale prices are down 11% from $275k to $247k in the North Fork Valley market. Similarly the number of new listings in this time period is also down around 10%. Sales volume is down slightly as well. Usually when we see a decrease in home prices we also see an INCREASE in inventory. That is not the case currently. In general we always see a bit of slow down coming into winter but when we compare the past 2 years a downward trend does emerge. Personally, I believe the current volatile political climate along with a precarious stock market have people hunkering down to see whats going to happen with the midterm elections. This means less people pulling up roots (and selling their homes) and more people pinching pennies with regards to real estate purchases. The stock market is way up but word on the street is a correction is nigh! Here is a recent article bolstering my slowdown claims. Remember Our market in the North Fork tends to follow national trends… albeit with some lag time.
What does this mean for buyers and sellers? Well if you have been sitting on your property in anticipation that 6 months from now it will be worth another $25k I would rethink that logic. Mind you I am no prognosticator with a crystal ball but I do believe the party has to end sometime with regards to our obvious seller’s market and steep price increases of the past 36 months. What I see is a bit of leveling off with no signs of another price run up.Thinking of selling? Do it now.
If I were in the position to sell I would do it ASAP and follow the advice of a professional Realtor who would provide me a full market analysis. Many times with regards to our current market climate sellers get caught on the wrong side of the bell curve by thinking they can get more for their property than the market will bare. Meanwhile the market starts to drop out from under them leaving them with an overpriced property that can languish on the market for years. 2016-2018 was an eye opening time! The Median sales price for a home in the North Fork was $189,500 in 2016 $215K in 2017, and since Jan 1st 2018 that number is $245K. For property sold within Paonia zipcode those numbers are even more starkly contrasted. Median sales price in 2017 was $180k, $200k in 2017, and $261k year to date! I would take caution in over-speculation of the value of your property as we approach 2019.
For buyers the news is somewhat better in that prices are cooling off in the North Fork Valley. Only somewhat because the lack of inventory continues to be an issue…especially inventory of property that does not require substantial renovations and updates. From my observations the type of buyers coming to western Colorado from the Front Range do not want to buy projects unless the price is a bargain. For non-cash buyers interest rates continue to inch up but remain tolerable when compared to rates of 30 years ago! (A 30 year mortgage in 1990 had an interest rate of 10.13%!)
Many people believe winter to be a poor time to put real estate on the market but locally demand remains pretty high as long as you adhere to current trends. Those trends are indicating we have reached or are reaching a plateau. 2019 is going to be an interesting year! Buckle up…interesting times ahead!
Oh…and don’t forget to VOTE!
So you bought a couple acres in the North Fork Valley. You are super excited because with that acreage comes 80 shares of Fire Mountain Canal and Reservoir Co irrigation water! You’ve already got your garden planned, possibly a little orchard and some hay, maybe even some starts in the greenhouse ready to go into the ground. Its late April and you are seeing all that lovely spring melt runoff water rushing down the canal but nobody has turned on your head gate to let water onto your property! You want your water and you want it now! Your neighbor has water. Its been on for a couple weeks now. Why is his water on and yours isn’t? You want to get to the bottom of this and soon. Who do you call? Who is the authority for irrigation water in the North Fork Valley?
Water rights and rules are quite complicated and completely non-standard from one ditch to another. Its the same all over the west. What is early and late water? How much is a share of water on Fire Mountain Canal? Why is that share different than a share from Stewart Ditch? How much water is a “share” exactly? Who can make the final judgement if I think my neighbor upstream is taking too much water? There is no standard answer and in fact its quite the rabbit hole of information that you really should rely on experts for.
In Delta county there are well over 200 ditches, canals, and springs that have been identified and allocated by the state of Colorado. But Colorado’s water jurisdiction ends at the source of each ditch or spring. When you purchased your property, if your land has an irrigation water right you should have received a certificate that states how many shares and the name of the ditch company your rights are associated with. In some instances you may have a water right stated as a “decree” instead of a share. Decrees usually have streamflow values associated with them. For instance your decree might read .25 cfs from Such and Such ditch or spring. Decrees can be searched on the Colorado Dept of water Resources website (See link below).
Each water district has its own water commissioners. In the Montrose district (which encompasses the North Fork Valley) there are 24 individual commissioners. Usually a commissioner is responsible for a particular river or major source of water. In the North Fork valley Luke Rushke is our water commissioner but he’s not the guy to call if you have a question about your ditch! He’s a nice guy and can give you his opinion but he has no authority on your ditch. His authority concerns how much water each ditch company is taking at the source and makes the call concerning priorities. Every ditch has a differing “priority”. Think of priority as a totem pole. The ditches up top of the pole will be turned off in the event of a water shortage before the ditches on the bottom. Your ditch company and their “ditch riders” have final authority and can settle disputes with your neighbors concerning water usage. So call them first. If you can’t find a person to talk to your State water commissioner may be able to point you in the right direction.
Water wells are a different story. Every well in Colorado must be permitted by the state. There are many types of wells which are associated with their individual uses. For a more in depth article on Colorado water rights and wells please see this article as a starting point. https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/wellpermitguide_1.pdf
I have included below additional contacts for the area’s major ditch companies should you have questions about your water rights. In addition there is a link to track down wells and water rights all over the state of Colorado.
List of Delta County Ditches
North Fork Water Commissioner
Fire Mountain Canal and resevoir
Travis Cecil (Ditch Rider)- 970.589.3836
Karl Burns (970) 527-3005
Lee Bradley 970-527-6838
Wayne Frazier 527-3860
Minnesota Ditch & resevoir
June Thompson 970-527-3524
Map based search for wells and water rights:
Everyone loves graphs! At RE/MAX Mountain West in Paonia we keep track of EVERYTHING and our fabulous office goddess Carrie Silvernail “loves” to interpret real estate data for us to share with our clients. There is something in this data for everyone: buyers, sellers, investors, or just “looky-loos” and dreamers. 2017 has been a hectic year of real estate in Delta County with demand and prices skyrocketing, supplies are falling to all time lows. Its a sellers market and a competive buyers environment. Regardless of which side of the tranaction you are on, its always a good idea to hire a professional licensed Realtor to help navigate the often stormy seas of real estate. I have included below a sampling of some of the more interesting graphs. If you are in the market to buy or looking to sell and need assistance please contact me directly. I can provide a free up to the minute market analysis to help you make one of the more important decisions of your life. Lets get on with the graphs!
(If you are viewing the graphs from a phone be prepared to zoom in to see some of the figures!)
What States are Buyers Coming From?
Where in Colorado are Buyers Coming From?
(The figure of “33%” from Paonia may be skewed due to the fact that some buyers have relocated to Paonia BEFORE they purchase property.
Number of Delta County Sales Since 2004
Average Sales Price for Homes North Fork VS Delta County Wide
How much Business Does RE/MAX Mountain West Do in Delta County?
After years of dreaming and plotting, my family and I embarked on a month long trip to Costa Rica this winter. We hadn’t talked about Costa Rica as a particular destination much at all. The plan was more an open concept. Relocate the family for an extended period of time somewhere in Latin America and be open to what unfolds. When I say we “plotted and dreamed” in reality it was mostly me who brought up “The Plan”. Put simply, I have come to no longer appreciate the weather Colorado has to offer in the winter. Mexico was always the place we thought we’d spend more time. But after witnessing the royal trashing of some of our past Mexican destinations due to popularity bombs as well as an increasing number of severed heads appearing in more and more resort cities we thought Costa Rica might be a safer, cleaner alternative.
Not being your typical tourists we sidestepped the zipline tours and volcanos and sought out a relatively quiet southwest corner of the country to spend 30 days in one spot absorbing what we could from this iconic place. We rented a house in the mountains with a view of the Pacific ocean from the front porch and a view of pristine rainforest covered mountains and ridges out the back door. Howler monkeys would bellow every morning at the crack of dawn always invisible to us across the canyon while Toucans and Scarlet Macaws among dozens of other colorful birds screeched from the 75 foot tall forest canopy. Costa Rica is, in my opinion ,“Latin America lite” and a great place to dip ones toes into Latin Culture. Due to heavy gringo influence from America, Canada, and Europe, Costa Rica resembles more a dusty version of Northern California 40 years ago. The land here is clean, as is the water. The ecosystem is balanced. Everyone and thing seems to be getting along well even the bugs were pretty tame for living in a house in the middle of the jungle. The Ticos, are pleasantly laid back, family oriented, and good natured folks. Costa Rica is somehow ranked as the happiest country in the world and after a month soaking up this place I would agree wholeheartedly. But I sense a foreboding among some Ticos here and its a similar feeling I get in good ol’ Western Colorado and the North Fork Valley.
Our family became friends with a sweet local family down our road. Caroline is actually from Belgium and migrated to Costa Rica via Mexico years ago. Her partner is Alex is Tico, the term used for Costa Rican nationals. They are a very hard working couple with 3 small children trying to hold on to the small corner of the world they know and love. We were immediately taken in and introduced to other beautiful friendly people living in the Jungle around us, some Tico and some not. Caroline and Alex help manage several vacation rentals along our road including the one we rented. She also bakes bread to sell in her humble jungle house. It has been good steady work that they are grateful for and that they consider much better than the alternative: working in the resort or tourism industry in the beach towns along the coast. Caroline, being fluent in french, spanish and english, has also been helping to broker real estate deals between gringos and Ticos. She has even described times when she has witnessed fraud perpetrated on unsuspecting Ticos and brought it to light. She is on the front lines of the culture shift that has been ongoing in Costa Rica since the 80’s. Over the past couple years, parcels of land easily within her price range sprinted out of sight once gringo hands touch them. Following the trend, Caroline is desperately working to secure a piece of land for her own family on this mountain before its too late. Its not unlike the current trend in the North Fork valley as upwardly mobile buyers inadvertently price first time home buyers or people of lower means out of the market due to the intense demand for property. Like Colorado, beautiful areas in Costa Rica that have flown under the radar are being discovered and built up with vacation rentals that are usually occupied by the owner for a couple weeks a year. The trend is gradually pushing out Ticos who can no longer afford the steep price of real estate and are forced to seek more economical housing in towns and cities further from where they work.
It is apparent for better or worse the Costa Rican government and its people are more than happy to receive pasty skinned gringos looking for a taste of adventure and Pura Vida. Simply translated as “pure life” Pura Vida is Costa Rica’s motto. The country’s economy is built on Pura Vida and the tourism that it attracts. Realizing this, its government has made bold moves to protect this beautiful landscape and its natural resources. They have realized that a protected natural resource is worth more in the long run than open season on the environment. Over the past 30 years the country has gone from an alarming rate of deforestation due to logging to a steady annual increase of its amazing rain forests. 99% of its electricity comes from renewables, mostly hydropower. The country is clean and its citizens take pride in their country.
Gringos however, have fallen for this place and are buying up land, building retreat and yoga centers and building vacation homes at a rapid pace. Old time Ticos who have for generations owned land in the more remote portions of the country are more than happy to cash out to gringos in the throws of Costa Rican love affairs. Our neighborhood if you can call it that is 4km up a steep gravel road about 1000 ft in elevation above the coast. The road follows a ridge with astounding views of the ocean on one side and a densly forested canyon on the other. The parcels of land range in size from 3000 square feet to 60 acres or more. Currently the area feels very rural. There may be 5 cars traveling up and down our road each day. Here and there remnants old world Tico farms that are little more than bamboo shacks with a smattering of banana and coconut trees intermingle with gorgeous modern gringo vacation rentals with swimming pools and sliding walls that open to rainforest and ocean views. It should be noted there is not one gringo in this area who lives here year round but there are several Ticos who still do. When we arrived in January there were, on either side of us, hand made ‘for sale’ signs advertising “land with waterfall” or “borders waterfall”. Immediately adjacent another exquisite property of 6 acres w/pool with 2 off grid small homes that could easily grace the cover of Dwell magazine with an asking price of around $500k. 3 weeks after we arrived all those properties have now changed hands. With the exchange, from Tico hands to Gringo hands those prices jump exponentially and here lies the crux.
Caroline is well aware of what’s happening and has fear that she will get left behind and be forced to relocate off this beautiful forest lined ridge, a place she has raised her family and has a deep connection with. In the meantime she is becoming more savvy to real estate transactions. One recent transaction in play that is far from over would pay Caroline’s commission as a small parcel of land of which she is very excited for. But like all real estate deals she is well aware that nothing is for sure until the deal closes.
Meanwhile, my family and I have become more and more entranced with all that Costa Rica has to offer. The clean warm ocean, the pure streams and rivers, the endless verdant forests, the abundance of clean, wild, local food (coconuts are our favorite) and the very “island like” pace. As a bonus I was able to stay on top of work at home and freely communicate with clients due to the robust wireless communications network. Most times cell service bested the North Fork Valley! But our favorite part of our snowbird sojourn I feel we will miss most (other than not really needing any clothes) is being a part of this mountaintop community overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The Ticos are so welcoming, mellow, and down to earth. The pace of this country is ‘muy tranquillo’ a trait we truly appreciate. Even the somewhat transient and pasty white expats (not unlike myself) who occupy numerous country-centric communities seemed to have more or less incorporated the Pura Vida lifestyle. In my short time here I, like Caroline, have started to wonder just how long Pura Vida can last as long as the “discovering” of this place continues. In essence they are the same concerns I have for the North Fork Valley as its own “discovery” continues.
Jay Canode is a realtor, photographer, and hacker of words in the North Fork Valley of Colorado. He wrote this post from Costa Rica where he is pretty sure he will return one day.