When Susan Nottingham put her family’s namesake ranch near Burns up for sale this past summer, the superlatives echoed through Eagle County and beyond. At $100 million, the listing is among the most expensive properties up for grabs in Colorado’s red-hot real estate market (at $150 million, Discovery Communications CEO John Hendricks’s 7,000-acre spread on the Utah border tops the list) and includes seven residences, a hunting lodge, and water rights to a bountiful source that drains into the Colorado River. Nottingham Ranch encompasses 19,493 acres, and the water beneath it flows at 175 cubic feet per second, but there’s one asset that’s difficult to quantify: its stellar views, spanning from the Colorado River to the Flat Tops Wilderness.
“Just its sheer beauty,” Nottingham says when asked to name her favorite feature of the ranch.
She knows this land better than anyone. At 65 and the sole living child of Bill and Neva Nottingham, Susan worked the family ranch for almost all of her adult life. It started on acreage the clan homesteaded in what is now Beaver Creek and Avon, the last of which was sold off to developers in 1982 and now is home to Walmart and Home Depot. That same year, the Nottinghams bought the first 1,200 acres of their current ranch in Burns. They kept adding to it as land became available, the most crucial acquisition being a 14,000-acre family ranch adjacent to theirs.
Susan and her brothers, Randy and Stephen, were committed to carrying on the Nottingham way of life. But in 1987, the brothers, in their mid-thirties, died in an avalanche on Vail Pass. Susan did not have children, so when Bill Nottingham died at 86 in 2014, she started thinking about the inevitable and planning for the future. Still, she kept plodding for another three years, waking at 5 a.m. to check on newborn calves or, as was the case on the morning of this interview, working the tractor to collect some of the 3,500 tons of hay that the ranch produces annually.
Neither Nottingham nor her mother, who lives in Grand Junction and is 85, wanted to end this chapter of their family’s heritage, especially given there is a good chance that, like Hendricks’s West Creek Ranch—a 27,000-square-foot trophy home with helipad and observatory—the land’s working days may be over. “She is sad, of course,” Nottingham says of her mother, “but she knows it’s time as well. She thinks I work way too hard, and she would like me to enjoy the last years of my life.”
To do so, Nottingham plans to donate almost all of the proceeds from the sale to children—sick, orphaned, undereducated, from America to Africa. “I think that God gave me this beautiful place to take care of for a little while, and I think I need to give back in some ways, so that would be a great way,” she says.
Once she leaves the ranch, Nottingham plans to return to Eagle County. She skied every day when she was a teenager, before ranching stole her away. A couple of years ago, she bought new skis and boots and took it up again. Watching her life shift, she keeps in mind her father’s favorite saying: Nothing is forever.
“I guess,” she sighs, “that’s true.”