This article featuring the Oxbow Ranch, home of Rainhorse Equine Assisted Services, was published in the "Maintaining the Range", 2021 Fall Newsletter of the Wyoming Stock Growers Landtrust and was written by Katie Shockley.
The now thriving hay meadows and grazing land of the Oxbow Ranch along the Nowood River between Hyattville and Manderson was once left rundown, improperly managed and vacant for several years before the Eastmans got their hands on it.
Maria and Skip Eastman purchased the ranch in 2005 with a five-year plan in front of them. They were either going to restore the productive ground and rebuild the buildings or they were going to sell it.
"We felt overwhelmed, and we always asked, 'what are we doing,'" said Maria. "But we said, 'okay, if we can't turn this around in five years, we are just going to sell it.' But we never did, we just couldn't stop."
Restoring the land became the driving factor for the Eastmans.
"It became sort of who we were and what we did, and we couldn't walk away," said Maria.
Maria's background with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, range consulting, field work and mine reclamation work helped her to better understand the needs of the ranch. She became good at growing many different things on all kinds of soils.
The Eastmans have been living and working on the Oxbow Ranch for 16 years and primarily raise hay crops and lease cattle for winter feeding and grazing. They sell most of their hay to farmers and ranchers in the area. "We've always been really pro wildlife, we like wildlife," said Skip. "We have hay fields, so we are not doing farming that is making a lot of noise and scaring off wildlife."
The ranch provides a route for wildlife to access the river.
"We really have enjoyed having all those wildlife values and also the production values and being able to keep them both strong," said Maria. "That's what we really wanted to do, and we have been blessed we have mostly been able to do that."
Maria also runs Rainhorse Equine Assisted Services, a non-profit that helps people bond with horses and guide them towards physical, psychological and emotional healing through the support of the Wyoming Community Foundation. Her rescued and retired horses can be found on the Oxbow Ranch.
Things changed for the couple when they heard their neighbor was looking to sell about 600 acres of land and thought subdividing might help with the sale.
"We started thinking, 'we better protect our land,'" said Skip. "We had known Bob Budd at the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust from the Nature Conservancy because he used to work there, so we contacted the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust. We knew Alan Barnett, who was on the board, so we asked about getting an easement to protect our land."
Our families were both very supportive of our decision to get an easement to help protect the land from development, shared Skip. "We went through the whole process and the easement was also supported by the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) through the NRCS," said Maria. "We were blown away when our easement got approved."
The Oxbow Ranch was the first approved easement in Big Horn County.
Since then, the neighbor who purchased the property near them has also applied for an easement, shared Skip. "People are nervous about easements because they don't understand them," said Skip. The hesitance towards easements comes in two parts, shared Maria. "They are afraid to give over any kind of control of property rights and they think they might get inspected all the time," said Maria. "We try to tell them the purpose behind the easement is really to protect the agricultural values. The Stock Growers Land Trust is not motivated to do anything that would interfere with good responsible production practices."
The other concern is not having subdivision leeway, to be able to sell off a piece, and that can be a sacrifice, shared Maria. "Eventually, when we are gone, these places are going to be taken over by developments," said Skip. The Eastmans thought about their easement as the ability to draw the line at their property to prevent development and to maintain it for many generations to come. The process of establishing an easement is something that takes time, shared Skip. "You have to have a reason to do it," said Skip. "It has to be more than just the purchase of the easement, it's got to be the idea that you're going to be protecting it."
"This is our home, this land is in our blood and we know it's going to be protected forever now."