Remembering Ranger Brown |

Remembering Ranger Brown

Kathy Heicher
Bill Brown

EAGLE COUNTY ” The job description in the 1905 Forest Service Use Book is very clear:

“Forest Ranger: To be eligible as a ranger of any grade the applicant must be, first of all, thoroughly sound and able-bodied, capable of enduring hardships and performing severe labor under trying conditions. Invalids seeking light out-of-door employment need not apply.

“No one may expect to pass the examination who is not already able to take care of himself and his horses in regions remote from settlement and supplies. He must be able to build trails and cabins and to pack in provisions without assistance.”

William Sears Brown fit that description; and worked for the forest as Eagle District ranger from 1920 to 1935. “Ranger Brown,” as he was known by all those who worked with him, played a significant role in shaping the Forest Service culture of that time.

He and his family built a cabin and ranger station at Yeoman Park on East Brush Creek, which served as the local Forest Service headquarters. Brown’s five sons grew up there and over the decades, they have returned often.

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Brown helped the road from Eagle to Thomasville, connecting the Eagle Valley with the Frying Pan Valley. As was typical of forest rangers in that era, he also cleared trails, issued hunting licenses, and managed livestock allotments and timber sales.

“He basically did everything that it now takes about 30 people to do,” says Bill Johnson, outdoor recreation planner for the Eagle Ranger District.

Cave tours

Ranger Brown was in charge during the Great Depression when the federal government’s Civilian Conservation Corps program came to Eagle County. During the summers of 1940 and 1941, the Yeoman Park meadow was filled with rows of tents, housing dozens of young men who otherwise would have been jobless.

Under Forest Service supervision, the men planted trees, built roads and range fences, and took care of trails and streams.

Brown and Forest Service administrator Arthur Carhartt wanted to designate Fulford Cave, a popular attraction on East Brush Creek, as a “wonder of the Rocky Mountain Region.” There was talk of placing lights in the cave for tours and developing of a park at Fulford, but that never happened.

It was during Brown’s tenure that serious talk began about building a reservoir at Yeoman. The reservoir idea was discussed for decades, but also never happened.

Brown was known as a ranger who could come down hard on offenders, yet be very lenient with people who needed help, says grandson Wayne Brown, 58, of Aurora.

“He was known as a good man, a fair man, and an honest man,” says Brown, who has written a history book titled “The Valley of Our Dreams” about his family and its connection to the area.

Summer vacation

William Sears Brown was as already working for the Forest Service in the winter of 1920 when he was transferred from the Sheephorn Ranger District near Radium to a new post at the Eagle Ranger District. At the time, both districts were part of the Holy Cross National Forest, which later became part of the White River National Forest.

Brown used a wagon to move his family to Yeoman Park, 17 miles south of Eagle on the East Brush Creek drainage. The Brown family initially settled into the first ranger station to be placed in the park ” a small log cabin originally constructed in 1905.

For two years, the growing family used the cabin as its home and a ranger station. In 1922, the Brown family built a new ranger station at Yeoman. Brown was a master finish carpenter, whose work included the elegant Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.

The family lived together at Yeoman Park during the summer months. During the school year, Brown’s wife and sons lived in Boulder, while Brown stayed at a house in Eagle. As soon as school let out for summer, the Brown family returned to the mountains.

In 1935, Brown became the building supervisor for the White River and Holy Cross national forests. He helped build offices and Forest Service houses in Eagle, Minturn, Glenwood Springs and Basalt.

Some of those building are still used by the Forest Service.

The Eagle District ranger station moved from Yeoman to Eagle in 1935, and Brown retired in 1944.

The trail

For the past two summers, Forest Service trail and fire crews and Eagle County’s Youth Conservation Corps volunteers have been digging sod, clearing brush and trimming trees to create a path through Yeoman Park.

Brown’s Loop starts at the Yeoman Park campground bridge over East Brush Creek, and runs south through the mountain meadow along East Brush Creek, offering plenty of access for fishermen.

The trail passes through the site of the Eagle ranger station of 1922. The building was moved to Fulford in the early 1960s, but the foundation and a few logs can still be seen. The trail then passes the Civilian Conservation Corps’ camp.

The trail loops across the creek, then meanders through a wooded hillside, ending back at the campground.

Some 58 members of the Brown family, including three of the ranger’s sons, are traveling in from various states for the dedication ceremony.

“Grandpa’s life and times, his exploits in Colorado, and his mark upon the future of the area are meaningful to our family, and to anyone who has a serious interest in that area of Colorado,” says grandson Wayne Brown.

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