Ascendigo Ranch Property
Ascendigo recently purchased a 126-acre property in Missouri Heights to design and build a permanent campus serving the autism community. Our working name for the project is Ascendigo Ranch, a name representative of the activities, programming, and environmental sustainability envisioned for this spectacular space. Ascendigo Ranch is a visionary project that raises the bar for autism services while respecting the natural environment, surrounding neighborhood, and historical uses of Missouri Heights.
Built over phases, Ascendigo Ranch will enhance the organization’s well-established programs and services, by creating amenities customized for the unique needs of people with autism. The Ascendigo Ranch experience will be transformational – significantly impacting and positively improving the lives of those it serves through outdoor adventure sports, equine and other therapies, educational endeavors, and nature-and agricultural-based programs in an idyllic environment.
A permanent home has long been envisioned for Ascendigo. The Whitecloud/Harmony Heights property in Missouri Heights, located off of Harmony Lane, offers the room needed to enrich Ascendigo’s services. Administrative offices and adult residences will remain in the town in Carbondale while the Ranch serves as a nearby nature retreat for experiential activities. The quiet and rural character of this property is in line with the vision for a center in the Roaring Fork Valley that promotes independent living while fostering friendships and social skills with easy access to all the outdoor and adventure opportunities that so many local residents and visitors enjoy.
Conceptual Site Plan
The building design concept is complementary to the typical structures in the area and the agricultural and equestrian uses complement the uses in the area. The distribution of buildings around the site presents a rural-agricultural, low density pattern of land use. Buildings have been sited with consideration for adjacent property owners and we believe will have less impact than the alternative housing development.
Renderings by Land+Shelter Architects
An immersive rural mountain life experience for people with autism
The Ascendigo Ranch vision enriches our community by elevating life experiences for the autistic community. A rich quality of life, independence, intrepid adventure, appreciation for nature, and inclusivity are our ranch values that are inspired by our community’s welcoming outdoor culture. Full participation of all members of our community makes our local social fabric stronger and more vibrant for all.
In our extensive search for a local home base, we engaged the previous Whitecloud landowner to imagine with us our vision for a permanent, community-serving camp. Following successful negotiations, we closed on this property in October 2020.
Ascendigo will be submitting a land-use application to Garfield County for an educational facility development at the Whitecloud property. The Ascendigo Ranch design and development team is comprised of thoughtful local professionals who specialize in community projects and who know, understand, and share our values.
Why Carbondale, Colorado and Garfield County – a welcoming, integrative community
Ascendigo has been welcomed by the Carbondale community and its businesses for over a decade. Ascendigo has a close connection with Carbondale stakeholders, and many of our faculty and staff live in Carbondale and the surrounding area. The Whitecloud property is just under 10 miles from our office in Carbondale and remains close to emergency and medical services. The site is 5 miles from Highway 82.
Whitecloud is the perfect canvas to customize a design tailored to serve people with autism. The opportunity to build from the ground up is an invaluable asset. We’re able to customize the facility to our needs for safety, functionality, and joy.
The Whitecloud property is not raw undeveloped land; roads are built to the subdivision, and infrastructure is in place. As the site of a former subdivision, crucial fire protection and water services are already in place, which clears a significant hurdle from the get-go. The former housing development sat dormant for 20 years, but there are well-planned utilities in place to service our proposed facilities.
By developing land that was intended to be developed, we free resources and shore our ability to imagine what autism services should look like. The proposed use is educational in its core, its mission, and its execution. We seek to design an idyllic destination for our program participants, tucked within a beautiful landscape.
Since our use is not intended as commercial, and we respect that intent, our headquarters office will remain in Carbondale. This also fits with our organizational vision to remain in town in Carbondale and maintain that thread of connection in the town fabric as well.
Carbondale and specifically the Whitecloud property acquisition provide Ascendigo with characteristics that are a winning combination for autism support services.
Frequently Asked Questions
Ascendigo plans to design and build a permanent state-of-the-art facility serving the autism community for years to come. Ascendigo Ranch will be located on a 126-acre property in Missouri Heights, located just minutes from our headquarters in Carbondale. The property is adjacent to two residential neighborhoods. When we began our outreach with direct communications to the neighbors, specific questions were submitted. While we don’t have all the specific answers today, the following information provides an overview of the project elements.
Ascendigo has hired professionals with engineering, law, planning, architecture, and other areas of expertise to prepare an application to submit to Garfield County in early 2021. We couldn’t be more excited to begin the planning, design, and outreach for Ascendigo Ranch. More information will come as the design and planning team refines the final plans.
We anticipate submitting our land use application in January of 2021. While we would love to use our property in a very limited capacity in 2021, we anticipate full build-out, as will be represented in our future land use application, to take several years.
According to the traffic report, Ascendigo Ranch will generate 6% fewer peak day vehicle trips than the single-family home alternative. Ascendigo anticipates making improvements to Harmony Lane as required by Garfield County and/or what is agreed to by the Harmony Lane owner’s group, since it is a private road.
For most of our programs, our staff and participants travel in groups, often in 12 passenger vans, which inherently creates less traffic than single-occupant vehicles. We will travel off-site less because there will be more activities to do on-site. We have committed to a shuttle system for staff and for community events, which we have committed to limiting to a maximum of 2 per year.
The traffic engineer will be asked to recommend actions to ensure our guests and staff use County Road 102, Fender, and Harmony Lanes for access. In addition, we are confident that we will have greater control over how our guests and staff use nearby roads.
Any entrance to our site will be adjacent to neighbors. Our current design has the entrance directly off Harmony Lane. We will continue to keep neighbor concerns in mind as we finalize the design.
We are being as thoughtful as we can to apply best practice lighting and building design, including but not limited to Dark Sky compliant design and fixtures and internal shades. We will have fewer buildings than the alterative development planned and thus fewer outdoor buildings to light. No street lights are planned.
Many, if not most, individuals on the autism spectrum have sound sensitivities. We plan to incorporate sound mitigating design into our structures. We have also given consideration in our site design to providing buffers between neighbors and activity areas.
The site currently has fire hydrants that will be enhanced. In addition, Ascendigo commits to complying with and exceeding Garfield County Sheriff fire restrictions and following best practice standards as applicable based on conditions. We also recognize the value in collective effort and consistent policies, and therefore we commit to leading a discussion with adjacent homeowner associations (HOAs) to consider additional restrictions. Furthermore, we commit to complying with fire restrictions adopted by all adjacent HOAs.
We are planning multiple precautions for these events. We will have fire sprinklers inside of our primary buildings, a feature that likely does not exist in surrounding structures. We are also planning to design our irrigation system to serve as a fire break between the forested hillside and Missouri Heights (similar to what a rancher did during the Lake Christine Fire), a benefit not likely feasible with the single-family home alternative. We will have a caretaker who lives on property to manage such events, another benefit not likely with the single-family home alternative. We also have on-duty staff who are awake and alert 24 hours a day during summer camp – the peak fire season. We will also strictly enforce a no smoking policy for all areas of the property. We consider these precautions to be extremely pro-active, comprehensive, and not possible with the single-family home alternative.
Ascendigo thoughtfully considered the surrounding view corridors and dispersed the buildings across the site to minimize impact. The buildings on the site will be complementary to typical structures in the area and our agricultural and equestrian uses complement the rural nature of Missouri Heights. We will integrate the architectural design into the surrounding aesthetic utilizing complementary materials.
We understand that access to the trails on our property is highly valued by some neighbors. We welcome neighborly dialogue about allowing future access as we want our property to be fully integrated into our community and neighborhood.
We have conducted a significant amount of engineering and analysis, including multi-day well tests, to inform our design and operations. We are confident that our water use would be less than the single-family home alternative, which is why we haven’t incorporated our shares in the Antonides Well into our water system design. We have designed small xeriscape landscapes and are exploring the feasibility of an artificial turf playing field. We are planning to enlarge the existing irrigation control structure (aka pond) and recognize there is a separate and distinct process to confirm our ability to do so.
Our intended use of the property is a permissible use under the existing zoning. We are not seeking commercial zoning, but rather special use as an educational facility.
During the past three years, we have incurred only five (5) emergency visits to our summer camp program. Two of these occurred at off-site locations (Rifle Gap and climbing site), two (2) of them involved accidental button pushes of Emergency Boxes, and one (1) was an ambulance pickup at our camper lodging. Our history in providing a safe camper experience to a special needs population is outstanding.
Every program Ascendigo provides is education-based. Our programs revolve around recreational and behavioral therapy that serve as a foundation to teaching life skills and activities for daily living, for individuals with autism. Ascendigo also has a published curriculum in which we also educate other similar organizations across the country on supporting individuals with autism. Anyone using our facilities will be participating in an Ascendigo program. We have committed to not leasing the facilities to any other organizations.
No. Ascendigo will be conducting a philanthropic campaign to fund the build-out. Funding will come from private donors and grants, and will we will not seek tax-payer support.
The buildings for Ascendigo Ranch total approximately 50% (half) of the total building space that would be allowed if the Whitecloud/Harmony residential development was built as planned and approved (with home sites and ADUs). The grouping of the space, site plan, and architecture are reflective of and responsive to a rural mountain setting.
No. Our main offices will remain in Carbondale and only administrative staff working in on-site programs will use these spaces.
Our non-summer activities from September 1 – May 31 will be approximately 20-50% reduced compared to summer activities. We have committed to limiting peak days to 100 people or less for no more than 4 days per year. We have committed to limiting average days to 65 people or less and a reduction of 44% in our camper and staff lodges. We have committed to limiting fundraising/community events to no more than 150 people for no more than 2 events per year, likely occurring in the Spring and/or Fall. In addition to recreational activities, non-summer use will include therapy sessions, small-group training for staff and other autism professionals, staff meetings, educational workshops, and education programs, including programs with a residential component.
Ascendigo commits to maintain and implement best practice standards with respect to soil health, weed, domestic animals, and livestock management. We began weed mitigation last Fall and are working with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to optimize soil health. We conducted a wildlife study to better understand how to minimize our impacts. Lastly, we have secured a CORE grant to study the feasibility of all electric and/or net zero buildings to minimize our climate impact.
The higher trip count number comes from an earlier version of our application that was shared with the Post Independent prematurely. Before our final application was accepted, we found a gross error in the report. In the fall of 2020 when our preliminary operations plan was submitted to the traffic study engineer, it erroneously represented that multiple programs would occur during summer camp. This is not planned, nor really possible. Unfortunately, we did not review the final report carefully enough to catch this error prior to initial submittal. It was however caught between the Post Independent story and when our application was accepted.
We have evacuated our summer camp for multiple fires and our practice has been to evacuate during pre-evacuation to maximize the safety of our participants and staff. Because we transport our participants in vans, because our staff is well-trained and well-practiced in transport, and because of our early evacuation practice, I suspect we will be ‘long gone’ before surrounding neighbors. The noteworthy exception would be our caretaker, who would remain on-site as permitted and coordinated with CRFD.
First, we partner with several universities that have Therapeutic Recreation and Applied Behavior Analysis programs from which we recruit our summer staff. By working for Ascendigo, they obtain intern credits towards their academic programs. Because they are only here for the summer and housing is extremely challenging in the RF Valley, we must offer housing. Having staff live on-site, with amenities to keep them on-site such as dining, fitness, social interaction, and recreation, also reduces vehicle trips. Having more staff on-site also increases safety for everyone. Lastly, building personal rapport with our participants to build trust is one of our guiding principles. So greater connection, even through casual interactions, greatly enhances the quality of our support, and therefore our participants’ experiences.