Antiquated forest ranger home to go but locals hope to save its trees

Julie Bielenberg
The Aspen Times
The Forest Service's stables that were built in 1938 in downtown Carbondale.
Eric Doud/Courtesy photo

Since 2018, the White River National Forest’s Aspen-Sopris Ranger District has been debating what to do with its building and the antiquated Main Street buildings clustered on the corner of Carbondale’s Sopris Park.

The current building was constructed in 1938 for much different purposes and a much different town. It was originally built as the private home for the local district ranger. And Sopris Park was originally grazing land for the U.S. Forest Service horses.

Today, there are USFS employees who work in these buildings — with the former bedrooms, kitchens, basements, and other rooms originally built into the private home of an individual — now functioning as offices. But they were not designed for the public interface.

“We’ve been working on a redesign of our current building and the surrounding administrative site since 2018,” said District Ranger Kevin Warner of the White River National Forest, Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. “We are not in a position to stop these redevelopment plans at this late stage. If we were to stop or pause the plans, we would likely lose an entire construction season and a large portion of the funding allocated for the redeveloped site.” 

He noted that the current facilities have outlasted their useful life.

“The current space is not meeting today’s workforce needs. We have an opportunity to update, to create a more professional workspace for both our employees and the public who visits our station. It’s something very important to us and we’re really excited about,” he added.

Included in these redevelopment plans is demolition of the original 1938-1939 ranger house — currently used as office space, the original ranger station office, and the tack shed (stables) — and removal of some trees on the site. 

Patty Lecht and a group of concerned citizens have created an alternative plan to save the trees on the USFS property.

“Members of the community, including architects, environmentalists, and ecologists, have banded together to propose an enhanced plan to the forest service, wishing to serve the forest service in their endeavor to redevelop a property on Main Street in Carbondale and to protect trees on the property,” she said.

The nine trees include Douglas fir and maple. Some locals estimate the trees are 60 to 100 years old. 

She and her group plan to present the plan at an upcoming meeting with USFS. Her group’s plan rotates the present proposed building 90°, bringing the front entrance to Main Street.

“The plan moves the building to a present parking lot, thereby allowing heat sequestering trees to remain on the property. The plan means that buildings presently on the property can remain in place, able to be utilized during construction and after,” said Lecht.

An alternative plan to save Carbondale trees.
Patty Lecht/Courtesy

The tree-defending group believes the enhanced plan for the new building invites construction of an infrastructure able to support a second or third story if and when USFS finds the need for further expansion.

“We are actively taking a more in-depth look,” said Warner, “at the current landscaping plan and pursuing options for changes to that plan. It is too early to illustrate exactly what those changes are because we are still exploring the options.”

One such option may include transplanting some of the trees currently on the site. More investigation is needed to determine if transplants are feasible.

The stables also have significant historical resonance for agricultural families raised, generation after generation, in the valley.

“I know nowadays, the valley is known for recreation and tourism, but this was our ancestors’ land and way of life,” said Eric Doud, Carbondale’s historic preservation commisioner.

These stables represent a certain chunk of his own family legacy, especially when USFS used horses as a key resource for patrolling and safety measures. 

This Tuesday, Aug. 22, the community will have the opportunity to voice their opinion about the current proposed changes. The meeting will be at Carbondale’s Town Hall starting at 6 p.m.

“I just can’t fathom this part of Carbondale’s history being torn down and scrapped at the dump,” added Doud. 

The White River National Forest has already conducted an assessment of the administrative site in Carbondale, and the property was determined as not eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and that no additional historic mitigation efforts are required for the demolition of these buildings. While the buildings on the site are old, they are not historic by the standards that USFS follows. 

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