BLM dedicates Jouflas Campground in honor of local ranching family | VailDaily.com

BLM dedicates Jouflas Campground in honor of local ranching family

MACK — Chris Jouflas was a western rancher to his very marrow and smiled as he replied patiently to another young upstart who was badgering him about the effects of ranching on the land.

The effects, Chris Jouflas said, were good.

"We didn't destroy the land," he said cheerfully but seriously. "We had to live off it and to destroy it would be suicide."

Chris Jouflas died a few years back, but on Nov. 19, the day after what would have been his 90th birthday, the Bureau of Land Management dedicated the Jouflas Campground in Rabbit Valley and McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area. The land was once the family's winter range west of Grand Junction.

The history of the land is spectacular. There's even a title to the land signed by Teddy Roosevelt.

The story of the land is the story of dreams, immigration, family, hard work, becoming part of a new community and doing something bigger than yourself, said Katie Stevens, BLM field manager for the region.

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"Chris was from that mold. It's seems like a common lesson, especially here in the West, but it's a lesson that needs to be told over and over," Stevens said.

In the Eagle River Valley, the Jouflas family owned some of the land on which Vail was built.

The original tree hugger

"These days you hear the words environmentalist, ecologist, conservationist, renewable resources, sustainability — they're used commonly. Chris Jouflas embodied these concepts long before they were popular like they are today," Peter Jouflas, Chris and wife, Connie Jouflas' oldest son said during the dedication ceremony.

Sustainability works best when it works like this. The livestock grazed on vegetation you wouldn't think anything would eat, but the sheep did, and turned out wonderful lambs. In turn, the sheep produced food and fiber in a sustainable fashion.

"He was a conservationist and ecologist. He was a tree hugger before there were tree huggers," Peter Jouflas said.

Chris and Connie Jouflas were aware when it was time to facilitate the transition from agriculture to recreation, Peter Jouflas said.

For Chris and Connie Jouflas, that transition started in 1961 one warm summer afternoon at the top of Vail Mountain. On the spot of that epiphany there's a run named Ouzo, named for the Greek liquor that lubricated the real estate deal.

Chris Jouflas was working sheep up there and heard chainsaws running. He wandered over to investigate and found Pete Seibert and a couple others cutting trees.

"What are you gents doing?" Chris Jouflas asked them.

"We're building a ski resort! We have permits to cut trees on Forest Service land!" came their enthusiastic reply.

"This is my land," Chris Jouflas said.

They consulted their maps and learned Chris Jouflas was correct. Chris Jouflas decided to try his hand at real estate and pulled out a bottle of Ouzo. The negotiations were right there on those fresh tree stumps.

Winter rangers

Vail is great for snow junkies but tough for ranchers to find grass for their livestock to graze.

The Jouflas family trucked their sheep down from Wolcott to Rabbit Valley for the winter, leaving about mid-October and returning in May. Lambs were born in Rabbit Valley. Chris and Connie Jouflas' kids — Peter, Denise, Steve and Georgeann — attended school in Grand Junction, working the sheep when they weren't in class.

Connie and her friends would cook massive amounts of food, driving it out to Rabbit Valley in the back of the family station wagon — the family and crew had to be fed.

Occasionally crews created their own issues, like the time a bunch of them were in a Grand Junction libation location, found some trouble and landed in the Mesa County Crossbar Hotel.

For weeks the Jouflas kids had to roll out in the middle of the night, drive from Grand Junction to Rabbit Valley, work the sheep for a few hours, drive back for school and drive back out after for school.

Highway ewes

Sheep have to be moved regularly or they'll eat the grass down to the roots.

There are these green meadows in Rabbit Valley, surrounded by desert. The green parts are where the Jouflas family grazed sheep. The brown desolate parts are where they didn't.

Interstate 70 splits their winter country, so when the highway was being built Chris Jouflas lobbied hard to have an interchange over which they could move their sheep. Eastbound motorists would roll around the curve, crossing from Utah into Colorado and the overpass would be covered with sheep. Traffic clogged several times as people stopped to take pictures.

If someone had to make a phone call, then it was a two mile hike to the stateline store to use a pay phone. It's a little past the hill where a cell tower stands now. While you were at the store, the owner Delores might feed you. You could tell Delores what you want, and she'd bring you what she'd cooked that day, which was always better.

Catherine Robertson is the former BLM field manager and board president of the Museums of Western Colorado. Robertson wore her BLM uniform to Club 20 meetings, because she wanted members to know the BLM was there. Without fail she'd buttonhole Chris Jouflas to ask him about selling the winter range to the agency for recreation.

"Oh my gracious yes!" Chris Jouflas would invariably reply. "But now is not the right time."

BLM acquired the 1,300 acres from the family in 2006.

"Chris knew Colorado was changing and that recreation would be a driver for our state's economy," Robertson said.

It's still a working landscape — cattle instead of sheep these days, said Joe Neuhof of the Colorado Canyons Association.

"You see everything from mountain bikers to hikers to ATVers. It's a place where a lot of different people get together and enjoy the land," Neuhof said.

Former Colorado State Senator Tillmon Bishop said Saturday that most people don't see Rabbit Valley as beautiful, but they're not looking through Chris Jouflas' eyes.

"This land isn't exactly beautiful, but he'd turn it into beautiful when he'd say, 'Look over there. Isn't that beautiful?' Or, 'Look how nice that is over there,'" Bishop said.

"He always pointed out things that brought the good out in people and this land, and for that we're grateful."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.