The Cross D Bar Trout Ranch
by Jeanne M. Nagle
A family ski trip to Colorado in the mid-1960s altered the life of Dick Mandel '51 in a big way. It was during this mountain vacation with his wife, Margaret, and children that Mandel, a petroleum engineer by trade, decided he wanted to lay claim to a portion of the paradise that surrounded him. So he purchased a cattle ranch called the Cross D Bar, located near Westcliffe, Colo.
Dick Mandel '51
Today the 1,000-acre spread has undergone a transformation of sorts, attracting anglers instead of cowpokes. The Cross D Bar Trout Ranch offers city slickers weary of the urban grind a place to pull a little lip ("go fishing," in layman's parlance) and experience a number of other adventures in the great outdoors.
At first Mandel's purchase of the ranch was more tax dodge than Dodge City. "There are lots of good [tax] advantages to being in the cattle business," he says. Being something of a tenderfoot in most matters bovine, he partnered with a seasoned local cowhand named John Carlson.
"He was the last of a breed of the old-time cow punchers," Mandel says of Carlson. "He was fiercely protective of the ranch. He wouldn't let anybody set foot on it."
When Carlson died in the late 1980s, Mandel decided to expand ranch operations to include fishing on the property's four lakes. Three of the four had originally been dug as cattle watering holes, and were subsequently enlarged to accommodate a stock of fish.
Over time the ranch's cow-and-calf trade has dwindled. "At my age I figured that was a little too much," says Mandel, "so now I just lease out the grazing to a number of my friends in the cattle business."
The fishing and recreation aspects, however, are chugging along nicely. The Cross D Bar features an RV park and guest cabins. Activities for guests on the ranch include hiking and mountain biking. Rafting, horseback riding, golf, tennis, swimming, and mountain climbing are available nearby and can be booked through the ranch. Mandel hires retired couples from "hot states" such as Texas and Mississippi to help run the operation from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There is also a ranch manager and his wife on site.
In 1989, Mandel created the Cross D Bar Recreation Foundation, designed to serve the elderly and disabled. Working with volunteers from local chapters of Trout Unlimited and the Federation of Fly Fishers, and in cooperation with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the foundation hosts a number of outdoor events each year. Developmentally disabled individuals, area nursing home residents and disabled Armed Forces veterans from nearby Fort Carson take advantage of these programs.
"Over the lifetime of the foundation we have serviced more than 35 institutions and organizations," Mandel notes proudly. At present, the future of the Cross D Bar Trout Ranch is something of an unknown. Mandel, who is still active on the boards of several small oil companies, ceded ownership of the ranch to his children about a decade ago. He has gone over all their options, including slimming down operations or taking an environmental easement, which would protect the property from development.
"The sentiment that I get is they don't want to sell it," says Mandel. The tone of his voice hints that keeping the ranch open—in perpetuity—would suit this oil man turned cattle rancher turned entrepreneur and philanthropist just fine.