A look at the historic Summit County ranch that recently sold for more than $21 million

Pass Creek Ranch has been the site of Ute Tribe hunting grounds and 1800s homesteaders. Today, it’s used for residential, recreational and commercial purposes.

More than 1,000 acres of Summit County land that includes water rights and commercial activity is set to come under new ownership following a multimillion-dollar sale this spring. 

Pass Creek Ranch, located north of Silverthorne near the confluence of Pass Creek and the Blue River, sold for $21 million in April, according to real estate data from Land Title Guarantee Co.  

Jim Donlon, the ranch’s longtime owner, said the decision to sell was practical but bittersweet. Reflecting on 30 years of ownership, Donlon said the ranch was a family venture first and a commercial endeavor second. 

“The goal from the very beginning was to have a place where, if the kids were offered the opportunity to go to Disneyland or go to the ranch, they’d pick the ranch,” Donlon said. 

Once camping and hunting grounds for the Ute Tribe, the land served as a homestead for families beginning in the mid- to late-1800s. Federal data published by the Summit Historical Society shows that different parcels were used by various homesteaders whose families later consolidated the land. 

Between 1993 and 1999, Donlon purchased the various parcels for a total combined space of nearly 1,300 acres that became Pass Creek Ranch. In 2012, Donlon and his wife moved from the Detroit area to live full-time at the ranch, occupying its 6,000-square-foot primary residence. In addition to the main home, the property includes two smaller units intended for staff as well as dedicated space for horse boarding and cattle and ample recreational opportunities. 
An aerial view of Pass Creek Ranch shows various buildings that are built on the 1,153-acre property that sold in April 2024. According to longtime owner Jim Donlon, the ranch includes a primary residence, homes for staff as well as spaces for horse boarding and tool shops.
Hall and Hall/Courtesy photo

According to Donlon, the ranch can support about 25 horses year round and between 75 and 125 cows that come from the Front Range to graze during the summer and fall — land leasing fees help pay for general ranch maintenance and operations. 

“We try to have enough commercial activities to pay the bills,” Donlon said. “But I will tell you, in a high mountain altitude, agricultural operations are challenging. The weather is difficult. It’s not a picnic.” 

So in 2021, Donlon, his wife and their three daughters — who make up the family partnership that owns the ranch — decided it was time to sell the majority of the property, maintaining 131 acres of a southeast parcel as a “base for future recreation in Summit County.” 

The remaining 1,153 acres were sold to Denver-based automotive businessman Kent Stevinson, according to real estate transaction records from the Summit County Assessor’s Office. Stevinson has not returned requests for comment, but Donlon said he feels confident in the ranch’s new ownership, adding that he does not expect any major disruptions to its commercial operations. Donlon and Stevinson plan to hold an official handing-off of the property later this month.

Beyond commercial activity, the sale of the land included water rights to Pass Creek as well as a lease on water from a roughly three-quarter-mile stretch of the Blue River that runs adjacent to the property. 

Dating back to 1885 when major ditches were first built on the property, Donlon said the water rights for Pass Creek “predate the Colorado River Compact” and are “very valuable.” Water rights for the nearby segment of the Blue River, on the other hand, are leased through the Bureau of Reclamation. 

Pass Creek Ranch is pictured from above with the Gore Range seen in the background.
Hall and Hall/Courtesy photo

Both agreements further cement Pass Creek Ranch’s importance to the local environment, with Donlon adding that the water rights have at times presented a learning curve. 

In 2004, Donlon came under fire from neighbors after a ranch manager at the time built a makeshift dam to further divert water from the Blue River into the headgate of the ranch’s irrigation ditch. Despite being entitled to a certain amount of river water, low stream flows regulated by the Dillon Dam meant that Donlon had been under-collecting water for years, he told the Summit Daily at the time. 

The diversion, however, impacted neighboring properties by taking water away from some and increasing the chance of flooding for others. Donlon said he brought in professional engineers to remedy the issue, which he called “an unfortunate incident” but one that he learned from. 

More recently, Donlon and other nearby ranch owners took part in a soil study aimed at helping ranchers ensure their land is climate resilient. He’s also taken preventative steps to prepare the property for future threats, such as diversifying the trees he plants to better protect against invasive insects. 

In these ways, running a ranch has proven to be a constant work in progress — but one that Donlon said he’s relished. 

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Donlon said. “When I started this, I knew nothing about ranching. I was a business executive in the Detroit area. It’s been a wonderful learning experience and a growing experience.”

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