Steve Walker: Protector of Lake Creek
Special to the Daily
EAGLE COUNTY — People who knew Steve Walker found it almost impossible to coax him off of the ranch that he worked and loved at the top of East Lake Creek.
But once he came down the creek and connected with friends, he would pick right up where they had left off the last time they got together, whether it be months or even a year or two. Walker had a ready smile, a quick wit and a never-ending supply of stories that would have his friends laughing to the point of tears. He could be boisterous, sometimes loud and didn’t hesitate to challenge authority.
He was also bright, well read and artistically talented. Friends looked forward to his homemade pen-and-ink Christmas cards; and sometimes he would sit down at the piano to play and sing a song from a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. He made a superb rhubarb pie.
Walker, 65, died unexpectedly at the ranch one year ago on Oct. 19 after suffering sudden cardiac arrest.
A mountain man
Born in Sandpoint, Idaho, on Dec. 6, 1947, to parents who operated a resort, Walker was destined to be a mountain dweller. Like his three older brothers, he grew up working at the resort, and picked up some specific skills from his parents. His mom was the resort cook, and his father was a cabinetmaker. All four boys had woodworking talent.
In college, he majored in English and throughout his life was a voracious reader, in part because he was something of an insomniac. His Lake Creek house is filled with books. He read all kinds of literature, but had a particular love for non-fiction and history.
“I never saw anybody read more than him,” remembers his son, Ryan, of Boulder.
In 1968, Walker became a smokejumper for the Forest Service, traveling all over the western United States and parachuting out of airplanes to combat blazes.
“It was just a good way to get to the fire. Once on the ground, it was a bunch of hard work,” explains John Boles, of Salt Creek. Boles and Walker worked with a crew based out of Missoula, Montana, sharing the unique camaraderie that comes from working an exciting and often dangerous job.
“He had a little bit of a problem with authority. Imagine him working for the federal government,” says Boles, with a laugh.
Bill Hutcheson, of Missoula, was a fellow smokejumper whose friendship bond with Walker was strong enough that they talked with each other at least once a month for the past 42 years.
“He was as true a friend as I ever had, through thick and thin,” notes Hutcheson. He recalls that Walker was something of a romantic, and who dreamed of becoming a rancher and a farmer.
“He wanted to grow his own vegetables, can his own food, ride his own horses … he was in many ways a Renaissance kind of a man,” Hutcheson says.
Longtime friend Chris Eklund, of Edwards, recalls that she and Walker had a bit of a rhubarb pie competition going at community potlucks.
“He always trumped me, because he made his own crust. He was very proud of that,” she recalls.
Coming to Colorado
Walker first traveled to Vail in the 1970s, then settled into the valley for good in the 1980s, when he was hired as ranch manager and caretaker of the East Lake Creek Ranch (often referred to as the Scudder-Webster property), about 1,800 acres of pristine mountain land at the top of East Lake Creek.
Like his friend John Boles, who had also moved to Colorado, Walker supplemented his income by working winters as an instructor at the Vail Ski School, where he taught mostly adults and some family groups.
Although Walker did not own the ranch, he certainly took ownership in it. He raised his three sons on the property, and willingly took on the hard work of ranching.
He was a fierce protector of the ranch property and the owners’ privacy. People who roamed too far up the road could expect a tongue-lashing from Walker. Friends nicknamed him the “Troll of Lake Creek.” Only authorized people got through those ranch gates.
“He kind of owned the Lake Creek Road,” says Hutcheson.
Sheep ranching was yet another passion of Walker’s. “He was very particular about how things were managed,” said Julie Hansmire, “He loved to come help Randy work the sheep. He liked being a steward of the ranching operation.”
Division of Wildlife Officer Bill Andree recalls that Walker would declare, “I’m on the wildlife’s side,” whenever an animal issue arose. Walker would telephone Andree periodically to report sightings of new or different birds, or perhaps a moose.
Son Ryan Walker remembers the joy of growing up with Walker as a father.
“He loved the outdoors, and taught us everything about it. He taught us to ski, shoot and be respectful of guns. He wanted to go hiking with us and to share adventures.”
“For as cynical as he was about things, he had the biggest heart. I don’t know a single person who didn’t love him,” says Ryan Walker.
“There’s a big hole up there on Lake Creek,” says Boles.
Steve Walker’s survivors include his wife, Dana; sons Karl, Ryan, and Mitch; and three brothers. On behalf of the Walker family, Dana would like to extend a grateful thank you to everyone who has helped the family heal over this past year.
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