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Ashcroft cabin might stay put

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times
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ASPEN – A cabin built by an Aspen icon might not be demolished after all.

The Sunnegga cabin, built by former Toklat owner Stuart Mace, has found new life this winter as a warming hut at Ashcroft Ski Touring, south of Aspen, and the U.S. Forest Service might have a change of heart and let the structure remain there for that purpose.

The agency had ordered Pitkin County to remove the cabin, but three separate attempts to auction it off to someone who would remove the building and use it failed. The county’s Open Space and Trails program was facing the cost of paying to get the building off the property, which the county traded to the U.S. Forest Service as part of a land exchange.

Martha Moran, recreation staff supervisor with the Forest Service’s Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, skied at Ashcroft on Wednesday and paid a visit to the cabin. An approved plan for Ashcroft includes construction of a warming hut near the Pine Creek Cookhouse, the restaurant that operates in conjunction with the privately run cross country ski area, but the Sunnegga, perched on a hill in the aspens not far from the cookhouse, could make a new warming hut unnecessary.

“It makes sense – not tearing it down and replacing it with another building,” Moran said. “I went and brown-bagged at the Sunnegga. I think that’s a much better place than right near the cookhouse.”

Ashcroft, which operates mostly on Forest Service land, is in the midst of change. The Forest Service removed several old buildings from the property last summer, while the county dismantled another old cabin that the federal agency wanted gone as a condition of the land swap. The Fitzpatrick cabin, apparently moved from an unpatented mining claim elsewhere in the area, was in poor shape and not worth saving, according to Gary Tennenbaum, Open Space and Trails land steward. A third cabin already had been dismantled and removed for use elsewhere by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

The Kellogg cabin, a warming hut that was located at the upper end of the valley, also was torn down last summer, so the Sunnegga has been used as a second warming hut along with another that remains to serve the ski area.

Letting the Sunnegga stay as a warming hut is a logical solution from Ashcroft owner John Wilcox’s perspective. The artfully constructed cabin – Mace was an accomplished woodworker – is much nicer than the Kellogg cabin was, Wilcox noted.

The Sunnegga was built in 1957, according to the county, and originally used as a gift shop at nearby Toklat, the one-time dog-sledding operation and lodge run by Mace and his wife, Isabel. Someone else dismantled it and moved it to its present location, according to Mace’s grandson, Amos, who works part-time at Ashcroft. He, too, hopes the Forest Service will allow the cabin to remain.

“I’d love for them to rethink that position,” he said.

“It’s an addition to that ski area up there. It’s just a cool little amenity,” Tennenbaum said. “If it could be used, that would be great. I’d prefer not to tear it down.”

The county would likely sell the cabin to Ashcroft Ski Touring, possibly for a nominal sum, Tennenbaum said. While the building might not be historic in an official sense (it’s not that old, and it has been moved), its ties to Stuart Mace lend it some significance, open space officials contend.

A kitchen and bathroom that were added onto the back of the building could be removed. Moran said she would prefer to see a composting toilet installed there instead – a project that could be completed when the King Cabin is razed this summer. The latter serves as the headquarters for the ski touring business and received a reprieve from the Forest Service to remain through this winter. It, like the Sunnegga, was supposed to be gone by now, though the King Cabin is to be replaced.

Moran said she will consult with other Forest Service officials about letting the Sunnegga remain.

“It’s not a slam dunk,” she said.

The Sunnegga, Toklat and Ashcroft Ski Touring, along with the ghost town of Ashcroft, are all part of the scenic upper Castle Creek Valley. Nordic ski trails wind past the ghost town and the Pine Creek Cookhouse, while Toklat is now owned by the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

Toklat once was run as a guest lodge by the Maces, who offered dogsled rides and ski tours in the area. It was also the family’s home. The Toklat huskies were made famous in the mid-1950s by the TV show “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.” Toklat also operated as a restaurant for a time and eventually became a gallery that featured fine handmade crafts, including many made by Mace.

Stuart Mace died in 1993, and Isabel died in 2006.

janet@aspentimes.com


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