Nearly a decade in the making, two historic U.S. Forest Service outposts in the San Juan Mountains west of Durango should be ready for public use by the summer of 2018.
Tom Rice, recreation staff officer for the U.S. Forest Service’s Dolores district, said after years of renovations, the agency is ready to find a contractor to operate the outposts as rentals.
He said once a successful contractor is found, the company will likely be tied up with some maintenance this year, which makes 2018 more realistic for the start of public use.
“One of my goals is to get the rental program going so they don’t melt back into the forest,” Rice said. “It’s an important part of forest history.”
The two outposts are known as the Aspen Guard Station and the Glade Guard Station.
The Aspen Guard Station, at 9,200 feet in the Mancos Valley, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps nearly 80 years ago, and over the years, it has housed rangers and work crews.
In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service began using the cabin as part of an artist-in-residency program for nearly 15 summers, with painters, poets, writers, historians – to name a few of the eclectic users – taking advantage of the isolated location.
But the program was discontinued around 2009 because of the high price of maintenance, the need for major upgrades and renovations, and other nearby locations offering artist-in-residency programs.
Soon after, the U.S. Forest Service received Recovery Act funding, which was able to cover the cost of installing a safer groundwater well, among other much-needed fixes.
The Glade Guard Station, which includes an early 20th-century ranger house, a barn and a couple other structures, had fallen into complete disrepair, members of the renovation team said in 2009.
“When I saw the buildings the first time, they were in terrible condition,” Rich Hildebrand, a member of the National Smokejumpers Association crew that lead renovation efforts, said at that time. “A few more years, and the only solution would have been to burn them.”
Around 1916, a ranger’s quarters and barn were built for seasonal occupancy at the remote site, about 13 miles northwest of McPhee Reservoir and 18 miles from the nearest paved road.
In the mid-1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a camp next to the original guard station, constructing a woodshed and outhouse, which both stand today.
However, the ranger’s residence was moved to Dolores, and while the guard station remained as a work center in the 1970s, it fell victim to weather and vandalism over the years.
A three-year project led by the National Smokejumpers Association to renovate the site ended in 2011.
Since, the two outposts have laid dormant in the San Juan Mountains. The Forest Service announced last winter its intention of finding a contractor, but that effort was delayed, Rice said.
Regardless, he expects the two guard stations to be popular destinations because of the surrounding outdoor opportunities, such as hiking and motorized used.
In total, the two guard stations have a capacity for about 12 visitors – five at Glade and about seven at Aspen. Revenue from tourism will help pay for long-term maintenance of the buildings and should deter vandalism, Rice said.
He said there’s also a push to list the two guard stations on the National Register of Historic Places, which would qualify the cabins for federal grants and force federal planners to take into account the sites’ historic value when considering new projects.