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Somethin’ stinks

Tony Vagneur

When you’ve lived in this valley for a long time, a part of your history can sometimes change without your knowing it. Such was the case when I read that Lada Vrany’s place out in Owl Creek was “ramshackle,” and I suspect that reporter Scott Condon knows whereof he speaks.I haven’t been out that way since I was 2 or 3 years old (long after it was sold), so I guess a lot could have happened in the intervening years. Sometime in the 1970s, Lada and I had occasion to be in less than congenial contact with each other for a year or two, and intrigued by Lada’s mention of the ranch, I gave some thought to going out there and paying him a visit, but my gut instinct said I wouldn’t be welcome.Around 1880, my maternal great-grandfather, Timothy C. Stapleton, trudged over from Leadville, bringing with him a son, William Emmett, the lone progeny from a wife deceased in the 1870s, and settled on the ranch, which is currently owned by the county and so recently talked about in the local headlines. Ol’ Tim, who apparently was quick on his feet in the face of adversity, also brought a new wife with him, and in December of 1880, the first of 10 more children, all to be born on the ranch, arrived in the valley.I’ve always heard that particular spread referred to as the “airport ranch,” the utterance of which parlayed the connotation that there was more than one Stapleton ranch, not necessarily that the ranch was located at the airport – or vice-versa. That holding, one of many, was the hub of the Stapleton ranching empire back in the day, and the photos of my grandmother and her siblings engaged in family life around the well-kept, white ranch house, portray the typical dress and look of the times. It’s hard to find anyone who looks too happy about the whole thing, but then, maybe they had an inkling of how it was going to appear in the 21st century.My grandmother’s five brothers operated that land as the Stapleton Brothers Ranch Company from sometime in the 1920s, until it was sold in 1945 (William Emmett was ranching up the hill, as a neighbor). These boys were a diverse group of individuals, some living in town; some having other ranches in the area, including much of what is now called Buttermilk West; and some working more in town than at the ranch. The women – my grandmother and her sisters – were doing anything but staying home. They were teachers and travelers for the most part, although the Aspen ranch always drew them back.So today, you’d think Pitkin County would be asking the historical society to go out and make an inventory of the place, well over 125 years old, and would start thinking about what remaining parts of this incredibly historic ranch should be preserved. There is a real connection with today, as the fifth generation of Tim Stapleton’s family still skis these mountains and serves this community. But, something smells here, and it ain’t ranch sewage. It appears that Elwood, the airport manager, is pulling an “eminent domain” sleight of hand, using any means available to put Vrany on the skids and eventually do in the airport ranch buildings. Lada’s been there 10 years without paying rent (so why the sudden concern?), and I’m thinkin’ this puppet show is being pulled by a higher power, and I don’t mean spiritual. Someone living high on the hill, disgruntled by the view of the old Stapleton homestead behind the airport, or someone whose overinflated sense of pomposity, agitated by the sight of bedraggled buildings on an overhead approach, is manipulating the strings, I reckon. It’ll come out in the wash (maybe), but in the meantime, let’s put some historical light on the subject. Tony Vagneur thinks the old folks would crawl back in their graves if they got a look at today’s shenanigans. Read him here on Saturday’s and send comments to ajv@sopris.net.


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