Four generations of Zinks since 1917
In a fast-paced, quickly changing world, it can seem that stability is a timeworn value. The Zinks are proud of their longevity, and found it an immense honor when Waterfall Ranch was celebrated by Colorado’s Centennial Farms & Ranches program.
As of May 31, 2017, the ranch had been in the Zink family for 100 years, overseen by four generations.
From the outside looking in, this might not seem a huge deal. But those who have worked and made a living off a farm or ranch, particularly during the last half-century, know well the hard and sometimes dangerous work, the vagaries of weather (droughts, floods, blights), and the stresses that a regional, national, or worldwide economic depression can impose.
Centennial Farms & Ranches program – operated by History Colorado, the state historical society – honors families that meet several criteria: The farm or ranch must be in the same family continuously for 100 years, it must still be a working operation, and it must be a minimum of 160 acres or gross at least $1,000 annually.
In their application to Centennial Farms, Ed and Patti Zink described their effort to maintain a flourishing ranch as development sprawls around them.
“We are working to maintain the Waterfall Ranch in an area that is quickly urbanizing on the outskirts of Durango. Part of our effort to maintain the rural, open space nature of a ranch was to put conservation easements on 122 acres of the remaining 150 acres of the larger original ranch. The conservation easements allow for and perpetuate agricultural uses, while prohibiting residential development.
“While we are celebrating the historical nature of the Waterfall Ranch, we are also embracing newer agricultural endeavors by establishing a 75-acre ‘wetland bank’ in an effort to restore wetlands in an area which was cleared and leveled for row crops in the 1950s. This restoration of wetlands will further enhance the ecological value of maintaining open plots of ranch land into the future.”
The back story
John James Zink (1876-1959) spent his youth and early adulthood on a farm and ranch in middle Nebraska, then moved with his wife and three children (five more children would come later) to the Durango area in 1910. The family lived in Animas City for a time before John purchased the then-320-acre Waterfall Ranch on May 31, 1917, records show.
(See the chapter, “John J. Zink’s Colorado Leap,” at the start of Section Four, for more details.)
Eventually his third son, John Wilson Zink (1916-1992), took over the ranch. John and his wife, Ruby, bought out John W.’s seven siblings to gain whole ownership. John and Ruby sold the ranch to their son Ed in the 1980s.
The rock house constructed in 1921 at Waterfall Ranch has been rebuilt after a 1960 fire, then remodeled in 2016.
The ranch has been the focus of everything from cattle and sheep raising to potato and hay farming to fruit orchards. Some of these activities occurred on adjacent land or surrounding land in the Animas Valley, much of which the family has sold off over the last several decades.
Other parcels were placed into conservation easements, which are agreements between the landowner and a land trust that a parcel’s use will not be altered. In other words, the parcel will not be further developed. John and Ruby Zink were the first in the Animas Valley to do this, and Ed and Patti Zink followed suit. One of the trusts was La Plata Open Space Conservancy, a trust on which Jerry Zink is a long-time board member.
In the 21st century, Waterfall Ranch has stayed afloat by selling weed-free hay and high-quality topsoil from a 75-acre wetlands bank the Zinks have managed. Under a new and unique program, they have restored wetlands and sold mitigation “credits” to entities who develop wetlands. In other words, entities that develop wetlands are paying the Zinks to create new wetlands in a zero-sum game – no net wetlands lost.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary, on June 17, 2017, the Zinks hosted a Centennial Celebration. The entire community was invited, and a couple hundred people ventured to the Waterfall Ranch to attend. This included family, friends, and former and current employees of the ranch as well as Ed Zink’s multiple business ventures: outfitting, the sporting goods and bicycle shops, and Handlebar Motorsports. A large contingent of bicycle racers and supporters also came.
The community welcomed the opportunity to share in the occasion. Ed and Patti hosted a tour of the wetlands, and a potluck lunch was served cafeteria-style in the large barn. Visitors ate and reconnected with friends and met Zink family. A band played into the evening.
“While it is an accomplishment, it’s also a good excuse to have a big party,” Ed Zink told the Durango Herald.
In August 2017, Ed and Patti picked up their official Centennial Farm plaque during the State Fair in Pueblo. Also picking up a similar plaque at the same fair were Jerry Zink and his wife, Karen Short Zink. They are current operators of Sunnyside Farm, homesteaded by Karen’s grandmother, Annie Mason, in 1900.
As of 2021, 14 La Plata County farms and ranches had received the centennial designation.