A more than 100-year-old forest ranger station south of Silt has been largely restored; now efforts have begun on how to develop it into an interpretive and educational attraction.
The Cayton Ranger Station, the nation's second oldest Forest Service ranger station, 15 miles south of Silt along Divide Creek, was built in 1910 by Forest Ranger James Cayton and his wife, Birdie. The Caytons and subsequent forest rangers lived in the cabin until the mid-1940s. After that, it was used only occasionally by seasonal Forest Service workers and for local picnics. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
At a Feb. 20 meeting at Colorado Mountain College in Rifle, David Cayton, the grandnephew of James and Birdie Cayton, said the project is "around third base."
With preservation and restoration work mostly finished, work is beginning on the interior furnishings of the cabin.
"That'll really tell a story," Cayton continued. "'Cause when you're there in the building and see the old stove and the chinked walls and grooved floors, you kind of get a feeling of history. But it will make it seem like, yes, it was a home and, yes, it was a ranger's office."
Restoration work so far has included a new roof and floor and a cement foundation, which included removing the porches so the building could be jacked up to put in the foundation. The original Majestic wood stove is inside, where it resided for almost 100 years.
"When you look inside that cabin and see how they lived, with washtubs and the like, there's an aura to it," Cayton said. "It's hard to put into words. It's something you experience."
Cayton helped form the nonprofit Cayton Ranger Station Foundation to help restore and preserve the building and its history.
Jim Cayton retired from the Forest Service in 1939 and became a justice of the peace in Rifle. The couple lived in the building that formerly housed Karylett's Country Store on East Avenue until Jim died in 1956.
Plan to guide station's future use
The White River National Forest is in the process of developing an interpretive master plan for the station to help visitors learn about the Caytons, the area and its history, said Pat Thrasher, a former White River staffer and consultant for this project.
"We hope that participating in an interpretive program at the station causes you to understand the significance of the place and want to get involved in its protection and stewardship," Thrasher said. "We want to give a complete picture of the person, the place, the environment."
The document will address both the interpretation and conservation of the site, potential partners and funding recommendations.
"A part of this funding recommendation will be what do we do in the first few years," Thrasher said. "Then what do we do in years three through five and so on in terms of specific project recommendations and how is it to be funded?"
Money could come from the Forest Service and other sources, such as grants and user fees, he added.
Thrasher said the plan's central theme is "Ranger Cayton - A compass showing a path to our special lands that sustain us."
Subthemes could focus on Divide Creek's geology, history, ecosystems and people, Thrasher said. Others identified were life on Divide Creek, including Native Americans, settlement, a day in the life of an early ranger and his wife, Thrasher continued.
Using Divide Creek as an example of today's conservation ethic could be another subtheme, he said.
"We want out of all this to motivate people to be stewards of the land and stewards of the Cayton Ranger Station," Thrasher noted.
Area's history, rich resources noted
Meeting participants identified 24 sites in the Divide Creek area that could help tell a story of resource use, Thrasher said. Included were timber harvests on Coal Ridge and around Uncle Bob Mountain, spruce trees planted on Flagpole Mountain, prescribed fire activity around Mosquito Lake, gas wells that were drilled as early as 1937, the introduction of moose into the Muddy Gulch and East Fork area, along with inholdings owned by private owners.
Historic roads and trails, a schoolhouse were Teddy Roosevelt spoke and a hunting camp used by Roosevelt were others, along with the role the Civilian Conservation Corps played in the area, he added.
Thrasher said use of the station by the public would likely start slowly and grow as word spreads.
"Say one Scout troop camps there this summer," he added. "They're going to spread the word around and that will grow. At least in the first three to five years, you should plan on a doubling [of usage] every year."
Meeting participants also brainstormed a long list of promotional ideas and methods, ranging from using online social media to displays in area libraries to presentations in Colorado history classes at Colorado Mountain College.
Cayton suggested an anniversary party or event be held at the station, so the foundation could talk about the station and the area.
The foundation is accepting donations to help complete the project and provide matching funds for grants. Donations can be sent to: Cayton Ranger Station Foundation, P.O. Box 1898, Rifle, CO, 81650.