A view of the Jeff Hildebrand's High Mesa Ranch on the right - with its recently leveled pasture suitable for polo - and the Windstar property on the left with the pond.
A view of the Jeff Hildebrand\ Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

A public document on file in Pitkin County shows that the right-hand man in Aspen of Houston billionaire Jeff Hildebrand has been granted authority to make decisions regarding the Windstar property.

Doug Kelly, who is also the vice president of Hildebrand’s Aspen High Mesa LLC, was named in an April 16 “statement of authority” filed by Five Valley Farm LLC, which paid $8.5 million for the Windstar property on April 29.

The 957-acre Windstar property is immediately adjacent to Hildebrand’s 203-acre High Mesa Ranch, which Hildebrand owns through Aspen High Mesa LLC.

A statement of authority is a common legal document in Colorado that identifies individuals who are authorized “to execute instruments conveying, encumbering, or otherwise affecting title to real property” on behalf of an entity.

In this instance, Kelly has been given unlimited ability to take certain actions on his own concerning Five Valley Farm LLC’s property, which now includes the Windstar property that it purchased from the Windstar Land Conservancy.

The Conservancy was jointly controlled by the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Windstar Foundation, which have split the proceeds from the sale. (See related story, “The Windstar property and John Denver’s legacy in question.”

In his role as vice president of Aspen High Mesa LLC, Kelly has been actively representing Hildebrand’s interests in High Mesa Ranch for the past several years in front of Pitkin County, which has granted approvals for a new 5,000 square-foot barn, a precisely-leveled 47-acre pasture suitable for use as a polo field, and a long driveway lined with imported boulders and a log guardrail.

Neither Kelly, Hildebrand, attorneys for Five Valley Farm LLC or Marty Picket, the executive director of RMI, would comment on the significance of Kelly’s position of authority as it relates to the Windstar property.

Nor would any of the parties involved respond to the question of whether Hildebrand – founder, chairman and CEO of Hilcorp Energy Company, a large oil and gas production company – is in fact the new owner of the Windstar property, which was purchased by the late John Denver in two acquisitions in 1978 and 1979.

Hildebrand, who Forbes estimated in March was worth $5.5 billion, also owns two adjacent homes near downtown Aspen and he was recently appointed to the University of Texas System Board of Regents by the Texas state senate.

Many neighbors and residents of the Snowmass and Capitol creek valleys have heard that Hildebrand is the new owner of the Windstar property, which is divided into a 927-acre conservation parcel open to the public on foot and horseback and a 30-acre parcel that can be developed with a single-family home under the Pitkin County land use code.

Gary Beck, whose property adjoins the High Mesa Ranch on the Snowmass Creek side of the property, said it was his clear understanding that Hildebrand had bought the Windstar property, but he said he didn’t have anything concrete he could point to that proves it.

Beck has recently been working closely with the managers of Hildebrand’s property to relocate irrigation pipelines that cross the High Mesa property and run to his land.

“They have been a good neighbor as far as that goes,” Beck said of Hildebrand and his land managers.

Frieda Wallison, who lives in Lazy O Ranch on the other side of the Windstar property, and is the president of the Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus, said she has heard from a number of people that Hildebrand is the new owner of the Windstar land.

“I think that a lot of people know that,” Wallison said.

On the other hand, she also said she couldn’t independently verify that Hildebrand was the new owner.

“That’s just what I’ve heard,” she said.

Many residents and neighbors of High Mesa Ranch have long thought that Hildebrand was the most logical buyer for the adjacent Windstar property, as a road on the High Mesa Ranch leads to a saddle in the ridge that separates the two properties and then connects with the top of the main road on the Windstar property.

And the new equestrian facilities recently constructed on High Mesa Ranch are well within view from the top of the dirt road on the Windstar property.

Five Valley Farm LLC also bought the water rights tied to the Windstar property and the water from Snowmass Creek that irrigates the land flows through the same irrigation ditch – the Walker Wonder Ditch – that also irrigates High Mesa Ranch.

Editor’s note: A version of this story was published in collaboration with the Aspen Daily News.

A view from the Gateway neighborhood shows the ridge that separates High Mesa Ranch, left, from the Windstar property, right.
A view from the Gateway neighborhood shows the ridge that separates High Mesa Ranch, left, from the Windstar property, right.Smith / Aspen Journalism Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

Brent Gardner-Smith, the founder of Aspen Journalism, and who served as AJ’s executive director until August 2021 and as editor from 2011-2020, is the news director at Aspen Public Radio. He's also been...