Sammie and Ray Coulon weren’t afraid to be trailblazers in Montezuma County’s conservation movement. When the La Plata County Open Space Conservancy came to Dolores in the 90s to give a presentation on conservation easements—something unseen west of Mancos Hill at the time—its parked their interest.
“A lot of people had a lot of suspicion about it,” Sammie said. “But all my life I’ve seen things that somebody could see a bad side to, and I thought, ‘you know, I think I’ll think for myself.’”
That presentation inspired the Coulons to put their own property just south of Arriola into an easement, making it the first one in Montezuma County. This led Ray to join other land-lovers to help found the Montezuma Land Conservancy to serve the most southwestern corner of the state.
Looking back many years later, the Coulons were“very happy” they took the leap and put their 221-acre plot into an easement. The family continues to raise cattle on the property, as does their son Doug, who lives next-door on a 70-acre parcel of his own.
Ranching is in Sammie’s blood. She grew up ranching in Disappointment Valley, moving to Montezuma County for high school.
Her husband Ray, who passed away in 2022, was originally from California, where he lived “just about from tip to tip.” He and some friends moved to Southwest Colorado to prospect for uranium.“That’s what brought us to this country, uranium,” Ray said. “The United States needed to get into it, and we did.”
The couple bought their Montezuma County property in 1973 because it offered a large amount of space for them to raise their three children.“We had a different place at one time, and we just wanted more land, as our family grew,” Sammie said. “Great place to raise kids. In fact, our youngest son is a partner on our place.”
Although her two other children didn’t ultimately take up the ranching mantle, they all were still immersed in the lifestyle through 4H and helping out on the ranch. Their oldest son specialized in rabbits and later sheep, while Doug and their daughter focused more on the cows.
Sammie herself served as a 4H leader for over a decade and touted its value to young people in teaching them public speaking skills, along with how to handle and care for animals. She recalled one instance in which 4H benefited her daughter, who was working as a veterinary technician in Littleton at the time. Someone needed to demonstrate how to brush a dog’s teeth. “And Kris said, ‘sounds like a 4H demonstration to me,’” Sammie said. “So they said, ‘good, you go for it.’ And she did, she was so proud.”
When they heard about the La Plata Open Space Conservancy’s conservation easement program, there were many aspects of it that resonated with the Coulons, from limiting development to preserving the character and quality of life of this area.“Not having people do so much land dividing around us that we’re put out of business because our taxes are raised so bad, was one of the main things,” she said.
There’s a need for more conservation, and a lot of landowners who would like to keep their land from turning into a “housing addition,” Sammie said, adding that MLC’s work is important to maintaining rural areas in North America. “I’ve always thought, you know, what are people thinking, they have to have somewhere to raise food.Not everything needs to be paved over.”
“They need to have the space for food and the general air and just for general well-being,” she said, adding that she probably wouldn’t fit in well in a city with all its space confines. “I’d be the cranky old neighbor right away,” she laughed.
Ranching and agriculture still occurs on the Coulon Ranch, and the land positively impacts the area and the experience of those who pass by.“We have a lot of nice places they can go,” Sammie said. “They see something besides tall buildings, I think it’s a better attitude.”