Pinon Canyon set for eminent domain showdown

With more than 15 million acres of military bases, training centers, and maneuver sites, the US. Army ranks as one of Americas largest landowners. But when it comes to taking territory, shock and awe are not its most formidable weapons. As hundreds of ranchers in southern Colorado have learned, the big gun is eminent domain.

By TREY GARRISON

With more than 15 million acres of military bases, training centers, and maneuver sites, the US. Army ranks as one of Americas largest landowners. But when it comes to taking territory, shock and awe are not its most formidable weapons. As hundreds of ranchers in southern Colorado have learned, the big gun is eminent domain.

Mack Louden looks out over a few of the 30,000 acres of short-grass prairie his family has ranched in the Pinon Canyon area of southern Colorado for more than a century and he’s not happy. No, it’s not his cattle, mostly Red Angus. Despite the unusual April cold snap, they’re just fine. What has him swearing under his breath is that his land may be in peril. Or, if it’s not his land, it may be one of his neighbors’ land.

“This isn’t what Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers had in mind,” Louden says. Age and experience weather his features. The lines in his face tighten along with the bitterness in his tone. “It rankles us because you know it’s not even necessary”

Louden has a stake in the land that runs deep. Several stakes actually. For one, his roots in southern Colorado date back to 1902. That’s when his grandfather, Dick Louden, came to Pinon Canyon, traveling on horseback from Indiana along the Santa Fe Trail and finally settling the family homestead about 60 miles east of Trinidad. And aside from his own family ranch, Louden has a second stake, a financial one. Over in Trinidad, Louden and his wife, Toyleen, own Marty Feeds, a modest feed store that has served most of the ranches in the surrounding area for generations. Some of these ranches have been up and running since before Colorado transitioned from territory to statehood, many in the same families.

But all of that could change if the Department of Defense gets its way. The Army wants what Louden and his neighbors have: land. Fort Carson, which is based more than 100 miles away in Colorado Springs, is out to expand an existing training ground known as the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) by more than 418,000 acres (over 600 square miles). That’s in addition to the 25 million acres the Department of Defense already has, including the Army’s 15 million. Local ranchers like Louden and his neighbors have an answer.

“This land is not for sale at any price,” Louden says. “If they needed it for legitimate defense of our country, I think every last one of us would give them our land. But they don’t need this land. They just want it.”

 

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