A native Colorado rancher breathes life into a forgotten homestead and rekindles his ranching traditions. Establishing a working cattle ranch from the ground up in modern times is a risky venture. Exorbitant land prices, environmental restrictions, drought-induced feed bills, fluctuating cattle markets, and insurance, tax and labor expenses loom like a blizzard during calving season, making it nearly impossible for most families to earn a sustainable income. Those who do stay financially afloat struggle to merely make ends meet.
That harsh reality didn’t deter Vince Kontny. After a lucrative engineering career, much of which he served as president and chief operating officer of a global construction and engineering firm, the native Colorado rancher returned to his roots. He put on his hat and boots, and rolled up his sleeves to help preserve the frontier legacy of two working ranches in southwestern Colorado.
“Don’t call it retirement, call it a career change,” Kontny said during a 1994 interview with The Denver Post, announcing the conservation easement he placed on his most notable ranch: Last Dollar. The picturesque ranch, located on the Dallas Divide, west of Ridgway, Colorado, has been the breathtaking backdrop for numerous ads for Anheiser-Busch, Coors, Marlboro and others. But beneath the ranch’s pristine surface harkens a deep history and a newfound future.
Building a Dream
Raised in northeastern Colorado in the rural community of Julesburg, one of 10 children born into a ranching family during the Great Depression era, Kontny knew the perils associated with his family’s trade, yet he wanted to pursue it all the same. However, his father, Ed, had other plans in mind.
“My father told me that I couldn’t make a living in the cattle business,” Kontny recalls. “He advised me to go to college, then get a good job to support and educate my family. If I still wanted to work cattle after fulfilling those obligations, then, he said, buy a ranch.”
More than 40 years later in 1988, when his three children, Natascha, Michael and Amber, were grown, Kontny began looking for a ranch on which he and his Australian-born wife, Joan, could permanently hang their shingle and that would enable him to do what he always wanted to do: raise horses and cattle.
“My philosophy was simple from the beginning: I wanted to find a historic ranch where my family could live the ranching lifestyle and preserve the western heritage,” Kontny says. “So many ranchers are forced to sell out to developers because of estate taxes, high overhead costs and offers too good to refuse. I didn’t want to see the heritage lost.”
Kontny always knew he wanted a ranch in scenic southwestern Colorado, between Ouray and Telluride. However, he first had to sell his family on the idea. To do so, he planned summer vacations and ski trips to the two historic mountain mining towns.
On a hunting trip to Ouray, Kontny met backcountry guide, cattleman, farrier and carpenter Duane Beamer. Both passionate preservationists, the men instantly connected. Kontny hired Beamer to help build his ranching dream and manage the operation. Together, the duo began an immense undertaking of restoration, conservation and preservation on a dilapidated, century-old homestead and ranch.