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Saving Squaw Creek history

Kathy Heicher

There’s plenty of history tucked away among the homes and golf courses in the Cordillera community on Squaw Creek.Log sheds and barns that were once a part of the Fenno Ranch are scattered along what’s a golf course now. Those buildings stand as reminders of the time when agriculture was the driving force of Eagle County’s economy. After all, the mountain meadows of Squaw Creek had a reputation for producing the best hay, the best potatoes and the best heads lettuce.Lower on the creek is the old log ranch house and other buildings that for decades were home the Bearden family, including Ellis “Bearcat” Bearden, a bachelor and rancher who earned his nickname in local boxing matches in the 1930s. Those aging buildings now are the “institutional memory” for a new community filled with new development, and new people.John Rainey, chairman of the Cordillera Preservation Foundation, says those structures are worth saving.A “pig-pickin’Rainey and his wife, Anne, who now split their time between Cordillera and South Carolina, spearheaded the formation of the foundation last year. The organization’s first fund-raiser, a “pig pickin” dinner of roasted pig, raised $25,000. Parlaying that money with in-kind labor and material donations from local businesses, the foundation now has a healthy start on its first project – restoring the Upper Bearden Cabin at the Bearcat Stables.”Bearcat’s” home, a larger cabin on the same parcel, is also targeted for restoration.The second annual Cordillera Preservation Foundation Hoedown is slated for Saturday from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Bearcat Stables on Squaw Creek. Once again, the event will feature a chuckwagon supper, a silent auction, “dirt-dancing” to live music, pony rides and games.The formal goal of the foundation is to promote an appreciation of history through acquisition, restoration, and preservation of structures in Cordillera and elsewhere in the valley that have special historical interest.”A fairyland’John Rainey says many people who have moved to the county are unaware of the valley’s history beyond the fairly recent development of the upvalley resort communities.”The Vail Valley is in many ways a fairyland. What people don’t realize is that not too long ago – about 100 years – this was still the lettuce capital of the world,” says Rainey. “Life wasn’t always easy here. It’s important to preserve our pioneer heritage.”Although restoration of Bearcat’s home is one of the primary goals of the foundation, the group started with a smaller project – the small, single-room Upper Cabin. Last summer, under the direction of foundation activists Mark Heinbaugh and Reini Winter, workers spent hot, dusty August days pulling out crumbling cabinets and rotted plywood and removing mouse-infested insulation from both cabins. After hauling away tons of debris, what was left were a simple structures of hand-hewn logs.Numbering logsTackling the smaller, upper cabin first, logs were numbered and the structure was carefully dismantled. Each log was numbered as it was taken down. A new concrete foundation is in place, and the next step is replacement of the numbered logs. Bearcat’s home, which suffers a leaking roof and a crumbling foundation, will undergo the same treatment.Saltire Development, a construction company that has built numerous homes in the valley, is lending a generous helping hand to the project; Vandewalker Construction has donated time and equipment for excavation work; B&B Concrete has donated concrete for the much-needed new foundation and slab work; Edwards Building Center has donated lumber for flooring.$25K to restore a cabinWinter says generous participation makes it likely the restoration project, originally estimated at $5,000 to $7,000, will come in under budget. The foundation estimates the cost of restoring Bearcat’s cabin at a cost of up to $25,000.Ultimately, the foundation envisions the buildings will serve as a Squaw Creek historical site of sorts, with interpretive displays and photographs telling the story of the valley’s past.”We want people to know some of the history before 1980,” says Winter. Although many Cordillera residents are second-home owners who are part-time residents of the valley, interest in the foundation efforts have been good. Rainey says the old ranch buildings add an aesthetic balance and a dose of character to Cordillera’s luxury-home development.”If those buildings are allowed to decay, I’m afraid we will be left with a sterile atmosphere,” says Rainey. “We need that (historical) glue to hold this place together.”With the help of Bearcat Stables operators Shanna Thorpe and Gavin Selway, the foundation has planned a fun evening for Saturday’s fund-raiser. Silent auction items include: overnight stays at the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, and the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera; a Vail-to-Aspen horseback trip; hot-air balloon rides; a handmade quilt; weekend getaways at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago and the Millenium Hilton in New York City; and merchandise and gift certificates from local shops and restaurants.For further information about the Hoedown or the foundation, contact Winter at 926-0089.


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