Bob Child dies at 79 |

Bob Child dies at 79

Allyn HarveyAspen Times Staff Writer

Bob Child, a local rancher who devoted much of his life to conservation in the Roaring Fork Valley and Colorado, died Friday after a long battle with cancer.Child most recently made headlines for preserving more than 1,250 acres of his ranch in the Capitol Creek Valley. The deal capped more than 30 years of work to preserve the environment that began in the late 1960s, when he led the opposition to the Aspen Skiing Co.’s plans to open a ski area on the mountains above the ranch.He also had a long career in local politics that began in the early 1970s on the county planning and zoning commission. He spent 14 years as a Pitkin County commissioner and a decade or so on the state commission that oversees water allocation and use on the Western Slope.He was 79 when he died Friday in California, where he had lived since 1995. He is survived by a sister, six children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.Bob Child was born and raised in the Chicago area in the 1920s and 1930s. Like many people of his generation, Bob was profoundly affected by the Great Depression, seeing his life go from one of relative comfort in early childhood to one filled with economic uncertainty.After high school, however, he attended the University of Colorado. It was there he met Tee, the woman who would become his wife.Bob and Tee spent their 20s and much of their 30s in the Denver area building a family and a life centered around his job as an executive with Continental Airlines. By the late 1950s, Bob and Tee had six children and a classic upper-middle-class lifestyle.Around that time he was put in charge of computerizing the airline’s accounting and payroll systems. By any standard past or present, he was an extremely successful businessman, leading a major American corporation toward a new way of doing business.But, as he tells in his recently published memoir “My Life As A Child,” he was also quite miserable. He was underweight and suffered seizures every now and then. “His health definitely suffered in the city, and blossomed when he was in the mountains,” his son, Don, said in a 1991 interview with The Aspen Times.Bob quit Continental Airlines in 1960 and began looking with Tee for a dude ranch in the mountains that they could own and operate.Their efforts were mostly fruitless for the better part of a year. Then they met the Arbaney brothers, Basalt-area ranchers who owned a 1,500-acre parcel up Capitol Creek.”We just fell in love with it,” Bob said in a 2001 interview. “But it was too big, there was no place to live except an old log house that was falling apart, and there was certainly no place for tourists. Besides, I knew nothing about cows.”Still, it was far and away the best piece of property they had seen. He and Tee and the children ? Nancy, Don, Steve, Scott, Doug and Jeanie ? kept going back to look at it again.”Every time we went back Alex would keep talking to me about cows, about how I would really like cows. And he said he could help me learn the business,” Bob said.In April 1961, Bob Child and his family bought the remote parcel at the base of Haystack Mountain and became ranchers ? and hosts. Over the years, scores of children, teenagers and young adults came and stayed with the Childs, helping out on the ranch, attending school and escaping life somewhere else.Among the visitors and the family, the Child spread was known as the Universal Joint.The next major turn in Bob’s life came in the late 1960s, when the Skico and the U.S. Forest Service began talking seriously about developing a ski area in the hills above the Child ranch.The financial implications were potentially huge for the Childs, who owned most of the property beneath Haystack Mountain where the ski area would go.But instead of selling out, Bob took on the company and the government, rallying his neighbors and the larger community against the plan.”It just seemed wrong,” Child said in the 2001 interview. “There were elk on that mountain. There were about six ranches in that whole valley. It just seemed totally wrong to dump all of that activity in that valley.”His work caught the attention of the Pitkin County commissioners, who appointed him to a vacant seat on the county’s planning and zoning commission in 1973.As a P&Z member, Child was one of several county leaders who ushered in the era of growth management and its strict regulation of development.In 1976, running as a Republican, he was elected county commissioner. He was re-elected in 1980 and 1984, the latter time as an Independent.He took four years off from county politics beginning in 1988, but was re-elected as a county commissioner one last time in 1992, when he ran as a Democrat.Throughout much of his early political career, Child worked hard toward the creation of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, which includes the U.S. Forest Service property above his ranch.In December 1980 the work (which Bob was always quick to credit to others) paid off when President Jimmy Carter signed the legislation that now protects Haystack Mountain and much of the wilderness in Pitkin County from exploitation.In 1994, Bob quit his job as a county commissioner and moved to the central coast of California with Tee, who died in 2000.The ranch was kept in the family, however, with each child owning a share of the property. It continues to be ranched under the supervision of Steve and Molly Child.Last September, the Child family, at the urging of Bob, placed a conservation easement over the bulk of their property for $3 million, split into two payments ? half now and half in 10 years.The deal was in many ways the final feather in Bob Child’s cap. He had long expressed a desire to permanently protect his ranch from residential development. The property would have netted the family between $10 million and $20 million if it had been sold on the open market, local real estate brokers said at the time of the sale.When it became apparent that his death was imminent, family members traveled to Oceanside, Calif., where Bob lived for the last two years of his life. He was surrounded by four of his six children in the home of Dorine Greene, a close friend of Bob’s, when he died.Steve Child said the family is still working out the details for a memorial service. But sometime next summer the Child family and Bob’s close friends will hike to the top of Haystack Mountain and spread Bob Child’s ashes, just as he wished.”Bob said to have that be a happy, joyful occasion when we do that,” Steve said.[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is]

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