Historic preservation effort in Hunter Creek Valley gets two important boosts
Local foundation receives $75,000 pledge to help with $350,000 target
A group interested in preserving an important part of Aspen’s history in Hunter Creek Valley wrestled with a problem right out of the gate.
The Hunter Creek Historical Foundation felt it needed to act as soon as possible to preserve the remaining structures and rotting log foundations of the W.E. Koch homestead established in Hunter Creek Valley in 1893.
But the group doesn’t want to draw any more attention than already exists in the popular area northeast of Aspen. The area is fondly known as Aspen’s backyard and in summertime its trail network is overrun on weekends and other busy periods by mountain bikers, dog walkers, hikers, trail runners and an occasional equestrian.
Ultimately, the group decided to pursue the preservation work while avoiding promotion of the area in the way the mining era ghost towns of Ashcroft and Independence are plugged as tourist draws.
“We want to stabilize these (buildings) for the long haul,” said Graeme Means, co-chair of the foundation along with Howie Mallory. Other members of the foundation’s board of directors are Tim McFlynn, George Newman and Dale Will.
“We want to keep it for future generations,” Means continued.
They are making progress on the plan. The foundation recently received a $75,000 pledge from the John W. Baird Access Fund of the Trust for Public Land. That boosts the donations to $130,000. The targeted work is estimated to cost $350,000.
The Aspen Sopris Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service signed off on the stabilization plan April 15, Means said. That was a critical step because the old homestead is on national forestland. The 60-acre homestead site has been identified by the Forest Service as eligible for listing on the National Register for Historic Properties, according to the foundation.
The site is on the north side of Hunter Creek, just east of the boundary between private land and national forest.
“The historic Koch Homestead played an important role in the early settlement and development of Aspen and is in immediate danger of collapsing due to lack of care,” Newman said.
A Morrison, Colorado-based organization called HistoriCorps was hired by the foundation to stabilize and preserve the few remaining buildings surviving from the homestead and what was known as the Adelaide Ranch. The foundation is clear on its mission: It doesn’t want to recreate or rebuild the remaining structures. It wants to prevent them from further deterioration.
“We’re trying to prevent them from falling down,” Means said.
A large old barn toppled decades ago and its boards and other materials lay in a crumpled ruin. Means likened it to a “whale skeleton out there on the beach.”
The foundation wants to preserve the barn to some degree, even if it’s just preventing the heap from disintegrating.
“If it was gone it would diminish the site,” Means said.
The initial work will focus on buildings still standing. The first phase of the preservation plan will focus on an old shop that is on its last legs. The metal roofing material has blown off but the wood rafters are still in place. Wood panels are falling out of place on the walls. The rusted corrugated metal roofing will be replaced so the structure survives for several more decades. That work is slated to start in September.
Phase two will focus on what foundation members call the roadhouse, a two-story structure just off a popular trail.
Other buildings in various states of disrepair include an outhouse and an old cabin with logs crumbling into the dirt. The log cabin will simply be stabilized so it doesn’t completely disappear.
“We could rebuild it, but we’re not trying to build Disneyland out there,” Means said.
Once the stabilization is completed, access to the interior the structures will be restricted, as required by the Forest Service.
An equally important part of the preservation project will be a thorough written history of the Adelaide Ranch. The foundation has asked Aspen history student and writer Tim Cooney to dig into details of the site and write a comprehensive history.
The foundation’s website already provides a glimpse of the history: “Beginning in the 1890s, these homesteads furnished the first dairy farm, produce farm, sawmill for lumber and source of reliable fresh water and hydro power to pioneering miners and their families in the nearby townsite of Aspen.”
The Hunter Creek Historical Foundation is just cranking up its fundraising effort. People who love the valley and want to preserve its history can learn more and donate at http://www.huntercreekhistoricalfoundation.org.
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