Still home to river’s old ways |

Still home to river’s old ways

Scott N. Miller
Preston Utley/Vail DailyPeople hang out at the Wolcott Yacht Club one Friday afternoon in June.

WOLCOTT – This is where the valley, and the river, can take a deep breath. Between the resorts to the east and the booming towns to the west lies Wolcott. Once a bustling rail stop, this part of the valley has been quiet for many years now.A golf course came about a decade ago, and the old store at the intersection of U.S. Highway 6 and State Highway 131 is now one of the valley’s more popular summer party spots. On the south side of the interstate, away from the river, there are homes, a golf course and a guest ranch. But it’s hard to see that from near the river, save for the lights at night. In the daylight, from the store or from the riverside, it’s easy to imagine this place as it was 75 years ago.Big changes are coming, but a lot of locals appreciate the way Wolcott is today.”It’s really quiet,” said Sally McNutt of Vail as she put her kayak back in her car on a mid-June afternoon. “It’s scenic, and there are a lot of birds around.” McNutt said she enjoys boating this stretch of the Eagle because it’s relatively smooth. That provides a good chance to get out on the river alone, something kayakers aren’t really supposed to do.When McNutt boats the river, she’ll usually pass people fishing from rafts. Once the spring runoff clears, people pull on their waders and head into the stream. In June, though, fly-fishers bob down the river in rafts, casting into pools and eddies that dot the banks.”It’s great fishing through here,” said Peter Schick of Cordillera. “From (Vail Christian High School) on down you don’t see anything. It would be a shame to change that.”

Like the rest of the valley, though, change is coming.In the next several months work will begin on the Vines at Vail, a project that promises to bring resort-type development to Wolcott.Developer Patrick Chirichillo is also a wine enthusiast. The plan is to build a small winery along with a lodge to draw tourists. The plan also includes houses, townhomes and office space.During the county hearings to approve the plan, most people spoke in favor of the project. And it was eventually approved.But there will be an effect on the river. The Vines at Vail is going to need water, and quite a bit of it. Chirichillo and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District have struck a deal to pull water from the river, treat it going into and out of homes and businesses, then return it to the river.During the hearings, Colorado Division of Wildlife officer Bill Andree said he’s worried about what pulling and returning water to the river will do to that stretch.”It will have an impact on the fish,” he said at the time.

Until the Vines at Vail is built, the Wolcott Yacht Club is the heart and soul of the area. It’s there where Wolcott keeps alive its heritage as a crossroads. Customers on a mid-week summer afternoon included a few folks passing through and a handful of locals.”I don’t want to see anything change,” said John “Oz” Osborne, who works at the nearby Eagle Springs Golf Club. “I’ve got the best work environment I can find. I’m along the river all day. I love it down here.”The Yacht Club may be quiet on a mid-week afternoon, but on weekends, the place is one of the valley’s unlikely hot spots.”This is different than any restaurant I’ve ever worked at,” manager Mitch Fox said. Asked to elaborate, he shrugged.”It’s Wolcott,” he said. “That’s just the way it is here. It’s in the middle of nowhere and people still come.”Those people come from upvalley and down for the restaurant’s Friday and Saturday entertainment.”It’s surprising how many people drive here,” bartender Carla Whirley said. “We get a lot of outdoorsy people, but a lot of people just show up.”Munching a sandwich and nursing a beer, Gary Flynn, a mortgage broker who splits time between Las Vegas and Eagle County, said the people keep him coming back to the Yacht Club Grill.”It’s laid back here,” he said. “If they ever get the hustle and bustle here, it’ll be too bad.”

Just upstream from the Yacht Club Grill is the other obvious feature at Wolcott: Eagle Springs Golf Club. The club, which opened in 1995, has 250 members, and, unlike other courses in the valley, no houses anywhere near it.Fred Green built the course and remains the club’s president. In a valley where most golf courses are surrounded by expensive houses, Green took a different approach.

“Real estate golf clubs tend to be the best they ever are the day they open,” Green said. “At the great old golf courses, the clubs aren’t managed democratically, or by committee. Historically, those are the best-run courses.”Real estate clubs end up being run by committees,” he added. “That gets to be unpleasant, I’ve found.”A couple of the course’s holes play across the river, Green said, and the river dominates the landscape. But what effects does the golf course have on the river? Based on the fishing, not much.”This stretch of river fishes extremely well,” said James Jouflas, who has run a fishing business on private land for more than 25 years. For some of that time, Jouflas ran fishing trips along the river before the golf course was built. Since the country club opened, his business still operates on land owned by his uncle just west of the course.Aaron Tiley, a guide for Gorsuch Outfitters, with Jouflas.”This river’s much more clear than the Colorado,” Tiley said. “And the fishing is great.”Part of the good fishing downstream is due to the management of the river as it runs through private land. Eagle Springs will allow six club members a day to fish along the river, and catch-and-release rules are strictly enforced.But, Green said, part of the reason that part of the Eagle fishes so well is how the golf course is managed.”There are no chemicals used between the river and golf course,” Green said. “And we use what’s called ‘Best Management Practices.'”That involves using specific combinations of chemicals, applied in specific amounts, to keep fairways and greens in good condition.”We wanted to build a proper, private golf course in the valley,” Green said. “And it’s still the only proper, private golf course here.”

br>Some say the Jouflas family came into the valley about the same time the first blade of grass sprouted at Wolcott. That’s not exactly true, but the family – led by brothers Chris and George Jouflas – has deep roots there, and owns much of the private land in the area.Denise Lipp, Chris Jouflas’ daughter, lives in the family home just across Highway 6 from the river.”I just look at it every morning,” she said. “There are certain rocks I look at that I can judge the river level.”I used to raft and fish the river all the time as a kid,” she added. “It’s really neat living in nature the way we do.” But owning property in a valley where land prices are higher than the surrounding mountains, there’s a strong lure to cash in. In the Jouflas family, that means the future of the property comes up often at family gatherings. When the family does decide to develop, Wolcott will bustle as it never has before.But, Lipp said, the Jouflas kids want whatever comes to the family’s property to be developed responsibly.”We can have a big influence on the future of Wolcott,” Lipp said. “It can be something great, it can be a clean slate.”James Jouflas, George’s son, agreed with his cousin.”We’re going to leave the river alone,” Jouflas said. “I know my family will and I believe Uncle Chris’ family will, too.”When that day comes, at least one county employee believes the Jouflas family will be true to its word.”The family seems sensitive to the pristine nature of the river and they want to preserve it,” said Cliff Simonton, a planner in the Eagle County Community Development Department.

Make no mistake, though, Wolcott won’t be sleepy forever.”In time it’ll come,” James Jouflas said. “It’s the last big place in the valley. Ten to 15 years out, you’re going to see something.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or Daily, Vail Colorado

Support Local Journalism