On Saturday, the Zink family will celebrate the 100-year mark of the family owning the Waterfall Ranch in the lush Animas Valley. They’re throwing a party and everyone is welcome.
“While it is an accomplishment, it’s also a good excuse to have a big party,” said Ed Zink.
Waterfall Ranch, as it exists today, is a little more than four miles north of Durango, off U.S. Highway 550 on County Road 203. The property is most identifiable by the waterfall, known as Falls Creek, behind it.
Waterfall Ranch began like most homesteads of the late 19th century, where if you worked the land, you had the right to claim it. That’s what the Lambert family did in 1874.
However, in 1876, Hugh Lambert shot and killed a Sheriff’s Office deputy in a dispute over water rights. While in and out of trouble with the law over the next few years, Lambert eventually sold Waterfall Ranch to the Wigglesworth family in 1883.
Thomas Wigglesworth served as superintendent of the construction of the Durango-to-Silverton railroad, but he suffered a stroke at age 73 and died in 1909. His widow, Ann, ran the ranch for the next few years, eventually selling it to a family that would go on to own the property to this day.
According to Ed Zink, his grandfather, John J. Zink, and his family moved from Nebraska to Southwest Colorado in 1910, spending a few years moving to various properties up and down the Animas Valley.
But on May 31, 1917, John J. Zink purchased the then 320-acre Waterfall Ranch from Ann Wigglesworth for $18,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that’s about $343,860 today.
John J. Zink’s health eventually declined, and he relinquished control of the ranch to his son John W. and wife, Ruby, by the mid-1940s. The couple began the second generation of Zinks to tend the land.
Over the next 40 years, Waterfall Ranch supported a thriving and diverse range of production, which included raising cattle, horses and sheep, as well as growing potatoes, hay and orchards.
And in the meantime, John W. and Ruby had five children: Jerry, Nelson, Ida, Anne and Ed.
“None of us kids planned to be in agriculture,” Ed Zink said. “We all had other career opportunities.”
And while Ed Zink, now 69, embarked on other career paths throughout his life, starting the Durango-based sporting goods store Outdoorsman, he was the only one of the five children to never move away from Waterfall Ranch.
Ed Zink said he started to take over more of the farm’s responsibilities in the late-1980s and early ’90s, while his brothers and sisters went on to pursue other life goals.
His brother Jerry, for instance, lives south of Durango, and started Sunnyside Farm Markets and StoneAge Inc., a tool manufacturer.
Today, most of the 160-acre ranch is dedicated to growing hay, Ed Zink said, but the family has embraced other avenues for use of the land, such as dedicating 50 acres to wetland restoration project.
With 30 acres of the restored wetland already complete, Ed Zink said a recent survey of birds on the property found the species increased from 27 types before wetland restoration to 93.
“Our ancestors turned wetlands into fields for hay, and we’re turning them back,” Ed Zink said. “There’s a new agricultural approach where the perception of the value of wetlands are increasing.”
Now, Ed Zink said it’s time to look even further into the future of Waterfall Ranch. His daughter, Kristi Zink, for instance, runs a day spa at the base of Falls Creek.
“We see ourselves as stewards of the land,” Kristi Zink said. “It’s important for us to have this (ranch) in the family and have a commitment to keep it that way.”
According to state records, there are 10 centennial farms in La Plata County, and three more will be added this year.