Local legend Gracie Oliphant reflects on Snowmass Village’s pioneering spirit
Lifelong lover of the outdoors honored with mayoral proclamation
It isn’t often that a Snowmass Village Town Council agenda item packs Town Hall to the standing-room-only brim and fills every spot in the parking lot. Nor is a post-approval party usually in order for a resolution or proclamation.
Unless, of course, that agenda item has to do with local legend Gracie Oliphant. A mayoral proclamation acknowledging her contributions to the town drew nearly 40 supporters (and one dog) into close quarters this week to celebrate a lifetime spent in service of the outdoors and the community — standing ovation and rounds of applause included.
“Gracie described Snowmass herself as a place of pioneering spirit and kinship and camaraderie, a town that offered a strong sense of belonging and a place of neighbors and friends who were there for one another through thick and thin,” Oliphant’s friend Greg Smith said at Tuesday’s meeting. (Smith was the one who first brought the idea of honoring Oliphant to the town; the idea was “months in the making,” town manager Clint Kinney said.)
“Gracie absolutely embodies all of those attributes herself and has left a strong imprint on her town and on all of us,” Smith said. “Thank you, Gracie.”
Oliphant isn’t going far — she just moved downvalley to Carbondale in January. But she’s kind of a living legend in this neck of the woods as the namesake of the beloved Gracie’s Cabin located near the base of Two Creeks and as the founder of Kinderheim, an outdoor day camp for youngsters that ran for nearly two decades in the early days of Snowmass Village as most know it.
She shared that sentiment of belonging that Smith noted.
“I was very touched, deeply touched and emotionally very overwhelmed by the love and support and the village that has come together in such strong support of people who live there, and the people who live there — how extraordinary they are and how supportive they are, particularly when the chips are down,” Oliphant said Wednesday in a phone interview after the proclamation. “They really rally and come together. It’s a very, very extraordinary, extra, extra wonderful community, very unusual, and they’ve stuck to their belief and their ethic.”
She and her cohort “built Snowmass Village from the ground up,” she said. She moved to Snowmass in 1966 with her husband, Bruce, when the skiing was served by snowcat and the sweeping resort of today was still just an idea. The couple built their home on Oak Ridge Lane; Gracie’s Cabin was another self-assembled project formed with logs trucked down from Lenado.
It wasn’t easy to make the move away from the place of her roots, Oliphant said; with self-professed wobbly knees, her remarks Tuesday night spoke to the unimpeachable sense of community that developed in the 55 years she spent in the town.
“From the ground up we grew, we loved and we worked together to build a village. We came to this valley with a dream and admiration for the homesteaders that pioneered deep roots in the land. We were awed by the extreme beauty of the valley and surrounding wilderness and the diversity of the wildlife and fauna,” she said at the meeting. “It was about the spirit and the bonds we build around the principle of coming together on higher ground in due respect for one another and the wilderness that fed our souls.”
A naturalist guide turned landscape designer — after Gracie’s Cabin closed, she established a new business, Pretty Petals — she has dedicated her entire life to the outdoors. Smith said in his council remarks that “she could name the birds based on their songs and knew the elk, deer and bear that visited our neighborhood almost by name.”
The respect for the outdoors is an ethos she hopes to pass on to the next generation with a message of preservation, protection and environmental consciousness.
“Our environment is so threatened that I think one of the most important things is this younger generation really hops on the bandwagon and does everything they can to preserve what’s left,” Oliphant said.
Now semi-retired, Oliphant still spends plenty of time outdoors as a birder and engages in other creative pursuits like watercolor painting. She’s also adapting to the “radical change” of moving to Carbondale and forging a new community there, but her heart will always belong to Snowmass Village.
“Does she get the key to the city?” one of many supporters in council chambers on Tuesday asked.
Mayor Bill Madsen laughed.
“We’re still trying to get it back from her,” he said.
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