An extraordinary man comes home | AspenTimes.com

An extraordinary man comes home

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Former County Commissioner Bob Child will return to Pitkin County this week to celebrate the preservation of his family’s 1,500-acre ranch along the banks of Capitol Creek.

Child will also be celebrating the publication of his memoir, “My Life As A Child,” with a reading and a book-signing.

The preservation of the 1,500-acre Child Ranch was assured yesterday, when the Pitkin County commissioners voted unanimously to approve a development proposal that would create seven lots at the lower end of the ranch along Capitol Creek Road. Each lot will be 35 acres and come with the right to build a 5,000-square-foot house.

As part of the land-use approval, more than 1,250 acres of the family property, located on the edge of the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness, will be formally placed under a conservation easement at the ranch Saturday morning.

Child, who is in his late 70s and now resides full time in California, has been battling cancer for more than two years.

The family and members of the conservation groups working with them have hustled to complete the application and get it approved before Child, who is undergoing radiation treatments, became too ill to participate. It was originally scheduled for approval on Aug. 28, but questions raised by the county commissioners resulted in the delay of nearly a month.

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Child family members have said repeatedly over the years that most of the ranch would likely be preserved, because Bob wanted it that way.

Bob Child’s love of his property becomes exceedingly clear in “My Life As A Child,” which went on sale this month in Aspen.

He plans to read from his memoir at 5 p.m. Monday at Explore Booksellers. He will be available for signings.

“My Life As A Child” begins in 1920s Chicago with a chapter titled “The Age of Innocence.”

From the start, Child is able to look at his life and its occasional misfortunes ? including a brother who died in an accident and the Great Depression ? in an extremely positive light. His writing paints a vivid picture of a time when soccer moms didn’t exist, one car in the family was truly a luxury, and children made do without television or video games.

“During hot summer evenings,” Bob writes, “the kids in the neighborhood gathered for games, with hide and seek the favorite, until our mothers called us in to go to bed. We were barefoot much of the time, enjoying the feel of warm pavement on our feet. During the middle of the hot summer days, we learned to step lively on the hot asphalt of the streets which were usually devoid of traffic.”

From childhood in Chicago, the book takes readers quickly through Child’s life as a young adult ? attending college in Boulder, meeting his wife, Tee, working as an accountant and manager at Continental Airlines’ nascent computer division, and raising a family in Denver.

All that changed when, Bob, Tee and their six children left Denver for the Capitol Creek Ranch, seven miles up what was then a dirt road from Highway 82.

Describing their first trip to the ranch, Child writes, “Beyond the corrals and outbuildings, our group grew quiet. We walked farther out into the meadows to better see this lovely place. Small ridges of scrub oak delineated the meadows and occasional stands of aspen and spruce trees cast shadows well out into the hay stubble. Occasional rock bars and up-thrust boulders broke the symmetry of the fields, as did several small groves of scrub oak. The whole lay within an open-ended bowl with a tall mountain forming a backdrop and lesser mountains and ridges towering above either side.

“We were reluctant to leave the place.”

The memoir details how an accountant became a rancher, and how a rancher became an environmental and political activist. An entire chapter is devoted to the successful battle that Child led against the Aspen Skiing Corporation’s proposal to build a ski area in the mountains above his ranch. The effort led him into county politics and four terms as a county commissioner and years on the state water board that oversaw water-rights allocations in much of Western Colorado.

“My Life As A Child” also tells of a man and his family and their “Universal Joint,” the term used to describe the family home and all the guests, mostly teenagers, who stayed there over the years.

“My Life As A Child” is a humble recollection of a man and his relations with one outstanding place and all the many people who helped make his life worth writing about. Anyone who reads it will understand why Bob Child and his children would decide to give up millions in potential profits for the sake of the environment.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]