ACES set to acquire Toklat

Naomi Havlen
A marble mountain lion greets visitors to the Toklat Lodge and Fine Arts Gallery in Ashcroft Tuesday afternoon March 23, 2004. Aspen Center for Environmental Studies received several grants and will be buying the property to expand their programs. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

The Aspen Center for Environmental Studies will soon acquire Toklat, almost three acres of land and a historic wilderness lodge in the upper Castle Creek Valley.

The new acquisition will become ACES’ third center for environmental seminars and workshops, along with Hallam Lake in Aspen and at the nature preserve of the Rock Bottom Ranch in El Jebel.

“The Catto Center at Toklat” is named for Jessica and Henry Catto: a Woody Creek couple who donated an undisclosed sum towards purchase of the property. They gave the money to ACES through the Catto Charitable Foundation.

“Our children went to ACES when they were young and volunteered, and now ACES is part of our grandchildren’s lives,” said Jessica Catto.

“And when we were young we’d go to Toklat for Stuart Mace’s trout cookouts, and we’d listen to all of his tales,” she said. “It became a special place for us, so it’s an enormous pleasure for our whole family to be able to do this for ACES, Toklat and the whole community of Aspen.”

Toklat is now a gallery and small restaurant, and the five-bedroom lodge has been the family home of the Mace family since the 1940s. The property is actually owned by the Ryan family, who leased the property to Stuart and Isabel Mace for the duration of their lives.

Stuart Mace passed away in 1993; Isabel still lives on the property with her daughter Lynne. When matriarch Isabel Mace dies, the property would revert back to the Ryan family. If that were to occur, it could be sold as a private residence, explained ACES director Tom Cardamone.

Cardamone began negotiating with the Ryan and Mace families last spring, and established a contract to purchase the property in November. The closing is set for late May.

“All things considered, this preserves their family home in the way that Stuart Mace envisioned it as a center for environmental work,” Cardamone said. “Although this is an emotional issue for the Maces, it will preserve their family home, and they can visit it, reminisce and have a reunion there instead of looking at the property from across the road because someone else owns it.”

The budget for the Toklat Campaign totals $2.75 million. The Cattos’ agreement with ACES includes the nonprofit raising a $1 million endowment to support operating costs over the years. In addition, the agreement includes $150,000 for Isabel Mace’s life estate, compensation for the fact she must relocate from her lifelong home.

The acquisition effort will be a quiet fund-raising effort, Cardamone said, focused on ACES’ major donors rather than the community at large.

The price tag for the property includes enough to cover roof and septic system improvements for the lodge, and construction of a walking path around the property. It’s ACES’ goal to preserve the unique character of Toklat, Cardamone said.

“Stuart [Mace} was constantly dragging people outside for his teaching because that’s what it was all about,” Cardamone said. “It’s extremely gratifying to follow up with one of his wishes that wasn’t completely within his control.”

Members of the Mace family couldn’t be reached for comment. Saville Ryan, one of the surviving members of the Ryan family who lives in Santa Fe, said that the sale to ACES is “a dream come true.”

“Now Toklat can be shared in perpetuity. In the spirit of Stuart Mace, the Catto Center will increase public awareness of the special ecosystem surrounding it and will inspire those who visit or study there,” she said. “Perhaps even more importantly, the awesomeness of Ashcroft will exist forever.”

Evolving ownership

The history of Toklat and the land in the upper Castle Creek Valley is deeply entwined with the history of the Ryans and the Mace families.

Toklat’s three acres is the last remaining parcel in the Castle Creek Valley owned by the Ryans – a family that once owned close to 1,000 acres in the area. Ted Ryan, a resident of New York and Connecticut, came to Ashcroft in the mid 1930s and was interested in developing a ski resort in the area.

Although those plans were shelved during World War II, Ryan began operating Ashcroft Ski Touring, now owned and operated by John Wilcox. After the war, Stuart and Isabel Mace moved to the area from Salida, Colo., and leased property from Ryan.

Toklat was built as a lodge and home that featured dog sledding and ski tours, and later the Maces operated a restaurant in Aspen based on an organically grown food philosophy.

Stuart Mace was one of the founding trustees for ACES, and welComed Tom and Jodi Cardamone to the local environmental scene in the mid-’70s with his direction to get the organization focused on children’s education.

Cardamone notes that Stuart Mace was well known for his philosophy about being a “caretaker of the earth” and for believing that the upper Castle Creek Valley – Toklat included – should be a center for environmental work.

After Mace died, ACES kept his philosophy about environmental education in the Castle Creek Valley alive through snowshoe walks and interpretive tours at the ghost town.

“We’ve been waiting for this opportunity patiently for a while now,” Cardamone said. “One of our board members noted that Stuart Mace was a great interpreter of natural history and the upper Castle Creek Valley ecosystem – the place spoke through Stuart. Now it’s our turn for the place to speak through ACES. It’s an evolution.”

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