Grand Lake group proposes park education center |

Grand Lake group proposes park education center

Tonya Bina
Grand Lake CO Colorado
The Trail River Ranch property was the summer home of the late Betty Dick, who lived there under a lease agreement with the National Park Service. When the lease expired, Dick, with the help of then -U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, took her case to Congress and was issued an extension on the lease. She died shortly after.

GRAND LAKE – About five miles in from the western entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, a slice of Colorado rests at a picturesque site at the origins of the Colorado River, with views of Bowen and Baker peaks, set in the path of the Continental Divide Trail in the Kawanchee Valley.

The site carries the rich history of the Ute Indians, miners and homesteaders who came later, and workers on the Grand Ditch water diversion project – the first in the state. It also is an ecological treasure with the potential for others to learn firsthand about pine beetles, wetlands, animals – from moose to mouse – astronomy and streams.

Everything from fishing to bird watching to writer’s workshops could take place at the site. That’s the vision of a group of concerned citizens in Grand Lake, which is charging forward with a plan to make the former Betty Dick property in Rocky Mountain National Park an educational center available to the public.

The property, now called “Trail River Ranch,” once belonged to Fred and Betty Dick who resided there under a 25-year contract with the U.S. Park Service. Betty outlived her husband, and when the contract was about to expire in 2005, the octogenarian fought alongside Grand Lake citizens and then-U.S. Rep. Mark Udall and then-Sen. Ken Salazar to preserve her right to live in the home during her remaining summers. A congressional decision allowed Dick to continue to live there, just months before she died.

The main cabin and outbuildings were then turned over to the Park and have not been utilized since Dick’s death.

Long term lease?

Called “The Grand Lake Institute,” the citizen group formed two years ago with the interest of turning the Trail River Ranch property into an educational center to benefit students and Park visitors. It is now seeking to obtain a long-term lease with the Park Service with this goal in mind.

As a first step toward the Institute’s vision, under Park special-use permitting, education classes will start taking place this summer, 2012, at the Trail River Ranch property for East Grand Middle School students, announced Grand Lake Institute Committee members.

The committee rolled out its “Trail River Ranch Master Plan” for the first time to Rocky Mountain National Park officials on Jan. 12 at the Grand Lake town hall. Park Superintendent Vaughn Baker, the Rocky Mountain Nature Association board chair Frank Kugeler and other influential figures were in attendance.

Creation of the master plan was made possible by a $5,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and another $5,000 grant from the El Pomar Foundation, which the Grand Lake Institute applied for and received under the umbrella of the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Nature Association, based in Estes Park.

The Grand Lake Institute enlisted Munn Architecture LLC, Granby, to produce the 38-page master plan, which outlines alternatives for the Trail River Ranch Park site – a precursor to a National Environmental Protection Agency review process that would be required of the Park for granting a long-term lease.

Although education centers and artist-in-residence programs are set up on the eastern side of the Park, the Trail River Ranch property would afford the west side of the park its first such facility.

“It would give us a venue we don’t currently have on this side of the park,” said Park Superintendent Vaughn Baker. “This is a community-driven initiative, and as long as there’s interest, I think it could certainly happen.”

Funding options

Vaughn said the project has potential, especially since no federal dollars are being sought to facilitate it.

The Grand Lake Institute would serve as a fundraising mechanism to transform the Trail River Ranch property into a usable site.

A National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, review process would be the largest hurdle in bringing the Institute’s vision to fruition, according to Baker, and could cost the Park anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000.

But Grand Lake Mayor Judy Burke has set sights on a 2015 deadline – in line with Rocky Mountain National Park’s centennial celebration – for seeing the Trail River Ranch property to its full potential, she said.

“I think the stars are aligned; we’re going to make something work here that’s going to benefit this community,” she said.

Mayor Burke is a member of the National Park Service Advisory Board and has spent the last year touring the nation’s parks and learning about the U.S. Department of Interior’s “Call to Action” in making parks relevant to citizens.

“I believe a park is about the experiences,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to people who have said, ‘I made it through Rocky in 45 minutes,’ – so people are driving through the park without actually experiencing the park.”

What’s more, the mayor said during the Trail River Ranch roll-out event last week, a casual survey conducted by the Grand Lake Elementary School principal last year concluded about half of the students had never been in Rocky Mountain National Park – just two miles away, Burke said.

“Isn’t that a sad commentary?” she asked. “In order to sustain the parks, we need to use them, and it’s sad how many people don’t.”

For those who knew and loved the late Betty Dick, who often hosted campfire sing-alongs at her home and opened her doors to Grand Lake’s Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre students, she would want the property to continue serving others.

The elderly woman fought hard for continued use of her home before her death; “and it should not stop there,” Burke said.

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603

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