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Fish Creek family ranch for sale

389-acre VandeWater Ranch listed for $65M.
After three generations in the family, the VandeWater Ranch has been put on the market. Real estate experts say the ranch market is strengthening. JONATHAN CROSBY / NEWS&GUIDE
By Ben Graham, Jackson Hole News&Guide
August 28, 2013

After three generations of ownership, the children of Arabella Lee Simpson and Blake VandeWater have put the family’s 389-acre Fish Creek ranch up for sale.

Asking price: $65 million.

VandeWater Ranch, bordered by the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Snake River Ranch and Teton Pines, is bisected by Fish Creek and several other waterways, making it “one of the best private fishing ranches in the Jackson Hole area,” according to a Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates online listing.

“From an environmental, wildlife and especially a fisheries perspective, it is probably one of the most unique and special places in the valley” when it comes to private ownership, broker Richard Lewis said.

The family’s decision to sell now could reflect an uptick in ranch real estate activity after the Great Recession seemed to slow sales of Teton County’s historic spreads.

“I would say right now the ranch market is strengthening and has been since the second half of 2010,” said Alex Maher, president and owner of Live Water Properties, a Jackson company that specializes in ranch real estate.

The numbers back him up. From 2007 to 2009 no Teton County properties of more than 100 acres were sold, according to statistics provided by broker David Viehman of Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates.

Four ranches of 100 acres or more sold in 2010, followed by one in 2011, three in 2012 and two so far in 2013.

The ranch market is a mixed bag.

In July, Cygnus Capital bought the 437-acre River Bend Ranch adjacent to Snake River Sporting Club. The ranch, which includes a 7,700-square-foot home, was listed in December by Sotheby’s International Realty for nearly $20 million.

At the same time, the Walton Ranch has languished on the market. In 2011, the 1,848-acre cattle ranch was listed for sale at $100 million.

The next day a broker announced the 1,750-acre Jackson Land & Cattle ranch in Spring Gulch was for sale for $175 million — the most expensive ranch in the nation at the time.

Walton Ranch did not sell at the original price. This year, the Colorado agents managing the Walton Ranch relisted it for $68.7 million.

The ranch, located north of Highway 22, stretches nearly to the confluence of the Gros Ventre and Snake rivers and is protected by a conservation easement. A buyer could add just three additional homes to the property.

Meanwhile, Jackson Land & Cattle’s owner, casino developer Richard Fields, was embroiled in a lawsuit with the descendants of former Wyoming Gov. Cliff Hansen over the 2006 sale of the property. The Hansens filed a notice of foreclosure against Fields. Teton County now lists Hansen Spring Gulch Limited Partnership and Hansen Descendants Limited Partnership as the owners of more than 1,000 acres in Spring Gulch.

At the time it was listed, Jackson Land & Cattle’s property, which sits east of the Snake River and north of Highway 22, offered 35 homesites.

VandeWater Ranch consists of 11 parcels. Each one is about 35 acres and could be developed with a single-family home based on the land’s rural zoning classification. Another parcel — included in the Teton Pines master plan — includes development rights that would allow up to six units to be built.

Lewis said the family intends to sell all of the parcels together.

“The big thing in Teton County is the sheer lack of any sizeable ranches that can be bought,” Lewis said. “That is a rarity compared to a lot of places.”

Arabella Lee Simpson and her husband Blake VandeWater took over the ranch from her parents. VandeWater came to Teton County more than 60 years ago and worked as a park ranger at Grand Teton National Park. Together, the couple ran Jackson Hole Hardware and later VandeWater’s on Town Square, selling kitchen equipment, china and gifts. They sold the store, and it became Belle Cose.

Simpson died in 1999; VandeWater died in 2009.

Lewis is optimistic the ranch will sell.

“When you do find something like this, obviously at this price level, it brings a different level of ranch buyer all together,” he said.

There are 116 properties left in Jackson Hole of 100 acres or more.

Jackson real estate observers are reluctant to conclude too much from recent ranch sales.

“It’s difficult to come up with trend analysis because there aren’t that many sales,” said Andy Cornish of Rocky Mountain Appraisals.

And ranch buyers, like others shopping high-end real estate, can be insulated from market conditions, including the recession.

“Even in the depths of 2009 and 2010, there were people with money who were cash-buyers looking for value, thinking there had been a little bit of a dip in that market,” Cornish said.

Live Water Property’s Maher has a similar outlook. Most of his company’s sales are cash transactions, so lending conditions don’t necessarily affect buyers, he said.

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