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Babbitt Ranches Buys Nordic Center North of Flagstaff


Jennifer Johnson inside one of the Nordic Center’s yurts.

Drawing on the same character qualities that made Babbitt Ranches one of the West’s most enduring ranching operations, the historic Northern Arizona land company is expanding on its outdoor recreation participation with the purchase of the Flagstaff Nordic Center and the promotion of an Outdoor Recreation Ethic Attitude.

Working with the Forest Service and broader community, Babbitt Ranches says it wants to create more recreational opportunities at the Nordic Center and on Babbitts land north of Flagstaff to connect people with nature and outdoor adventures and promote individual ethics and convictions. “These goals are at the heart and center of our Outdoor Recreation Ethic Attitude model that we want to develop,” said Bill Cordasco, Babbitt Ranches president and general manager.

This morning, Thursday Oct. 1, the Coconino National Forest approved the transfer of the Nordic Center permit from 11-year owners Wendell and Jennifer Johnson to Babbitt Ranches. “We expect a seamless transition; Wendell Johnson has graciously agreed to remain on as manager,” said Cordasco.

The Babbitt Ranches vision includes promoting recreation in the forest, as well as on state and privates lands. “Working with the Forest Service, we see this venture as an opportunity to create a modern recreation model for the region based on individual ethics and conduct – not regulations – emphasizing awareness, responsibility, obligation and accountability,” said Cordasco. “This is an exciting opportunity to connect more people – especially youth – with nature, expand on environmental education and outdoor adventures, promote healthy lifestyles, incorporate technology, reinforce how families are recreating today, and cultivate and nurture a land ethic as we are all part of the broader land community.”


“Sharing land stewardship responsibilities with partners like Babbitt Ranches is one of the most important things we do in the Forest Service,” said Coconino National Forest Supervisor Laura Jo West, who recently moved to Flagstaff from Washington where she served as the Colville National Forest supervisor. “What I’ve seen so far in Northern Arizona is a cluster of communities that are engaged, passionate and committed to the notion of sustainable use of public lands.”

Babbitt Ranches plans include an increase in organized public events; more rental equipment including skis, snowshoes and fat bikes; an expanded trail system; additional recreational opportunities at the Nordic Center and on Babbitt land; and rustic design improvements showcasing the western style and landscape.

Like the Forest Service, Babbitt Ranches manages its 750,000 acres of private land and grazing leases with a multiple-use philosophy and has long held the grazing permit on the same forest allotment as the Nordic Center.

“We feel like Babbitt Ranches is an extension of what we promote in the Forest Service: quality outdoor activities, multiple use of public land, and the goal of instilling recreational ethics into a new generation of users. Adding onto what the previous owners created with the expansion of summer programs, exceptional groomed trails that take the pressure off other forest trails, camping for the transition crowd that’s not ready to pitch a tent in the middle of the woods, and providing the opportunity to walk dogs or experience snow, we feel very fortunate to be able to join forces with Babbitt Ranches as we carry out our quest of caring for the land and serving people,” said Brian Poturalski, recreation staff officer for the Flagstaff Ranger District.

“I have hunted on Babbitt Ranches and always have been very impressed with how much they open up their private land for the public with the trade-off that visitors treat the land with respect and do the right thing,” said Johnson. “I was ready to not be the owner anymore and would not have agreed to be manager if it weren’t for Babbitt Ranches. They have the resources to ensure a year-to-year operation, without being so dependent on the weather and the snow season. A lot of the plans we had will happen sooner, such as expanding offerings for year ‘round adventures, streamlining operations and making improvements.”

Since 1886, Babbitt Ranches has run its many businesses based on hospitality, fair play, loyalty and respect for others and the land. “It’s what they used to call the ‘Code of the West,’” said Cordasco. “Our Outdoor Recreation Ethic Attitude is a return to that philosophy to encourage people to enjoy and appreciate the land through activities such as snow sports, hiking, bicycling, distance running and camping.”

The Flagstaff Nordic Center will be renamed Northern Arizona Nordic Center and Backcountry Adventures to feature not only cross country skiing and snowshoeing on groomed trails, but also to expand on activities including glamping in yurts and cabins, bike and foot races, science fairs, catered business meetings, family reunions and destination weddings.

“The people of Babbitt Ranches have always been responsible recreation managers and grazing permittees, and we are thrilled with their long-term vision for activities on the Coconino National Forest,” said Pat McGervey, outdoor recreation planner for the Flagstaff Ranger District. “We don’t have a lot of recreation sites in that area northwest of Flagstaff. The Nordic Center offers an important recreation portal into the forest along the Highway 180 corridor.”

Aside from recreation, Cordasco says Babbitt Ranches looks forward to encouraging the use of the scenic Nordic Center for important family events. Wedding Planner Yvonne Chavez says rustic chic is in big demand. “Just last weekend, I showed the Nordic Center to five couples who are planning destination weddings.”

“It really fit our personality,” said new bride Courtney (Quinn) Gutierrez, a Prescott dental hygienist who married Forest Highlands firefighter Levi Gutierrez at the Nordic Center in September. “We love the outdoors and the setting is so naturally beautiful. It is already set up with arches and yurts and cabins. Half the guests ended up camping. We had a bonfire at night and we could really enjoy our time there. We didn’t have to rush to be out of a ballroom by 10 p.m.”

Babbitt Ranches is a family business and pioneering land company that raises livestock, manages natural resources, promotes science and participates in the broader community “to do the very best that we know how,” said Cordasco. “We strive to approach every endeavor with the same quality character traits that our ancestors did when they started the cattle operation nearly 130 years ago. We call that Cowboy Essence.”

The Northern Arizona Nordic Center and Backcountry Adventures is located 15 miles north of Flagstaff. For more information, visit www.flagstaffnordiccenter.com.



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