Our History: Peer back in time with the White River Forest | PostIndependent.com

Our History: Peer back in time with the White River Forest

Editor’s note

The Post Independent this year is celebrating local institutions’ anniversaries — including our own — with the special page on Sundays. The PI in 2017 traces its roots back 127 years, but our volume number this year is 125, while the White River National Forest also looks back on 125 years, and Colorado Mountain College marks 50 years.

The White River National Forest is 125 years old and has a long and rich history.

This history is not without controversy and compromise and it is one that is intertwined in the lives of many brave men and women who pioneered, homesteaded, mapped, explored and contributed to all that the forest and the surrounding communities are today.

On Oct. 16, 1891, President Benjamin Harrison issued the proclamation establishing the White River Plateau Timber Land Reserve, the second such reserve in the nation. The reserve encompassed 1,198,080 acres of prime timberland.

The White River National Forest and the Glenwood Springs Historical Society teamed up this month to give you a glimpse back into the past and feature historical photos from the area.


In 1905, Teddy Roosevelt set up camp at Divide Creek. Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsmen, spent plenty of time on the White River National Forest and the surrounding area.

Phillip B. Stewart, a sportsman from Colorado Springs, helped arrange Roosevelt’s lion hunt in the Danforth Hills near Meeker on July 11, 1901, led by a local rancher and John Goff. The party bagged 14 cougars. On each of his trips, Roosevelt earned respect of the people on the White River and learned about their dissatisfaction with the “lock up of lands” in the timber reserve.


Would you have signed up to be a forest ranger? The Forest Service was established in 1905 under the leadership of Gifford Pinchot. In 1906, Pinchot had authority over the agency and to hire a staff to manage the national forests. In the spring of 1906, fliers were posted throughout the West announcing job openings for several hundred extraordinary men. The fliers stated:

“Men wanted! A ranger must be able to take care of himself and his horses in very trying conditions; build trails and cabins, ride all day and all night, pack, shoot and fight without losing his head. All this requires a very rigorous constitution. It means the hardest kind of physical work from beginning to end!”

The first ranger station constructed on the White River was built in 1902 by Ranger J.V. Seaman on Bear River near Yampa. Another notable station on the Forest is the Cayton Guard Station established by James G. Cayton. Cayton determined the Johnson Springs area, south of Silt, to be a good place for a ranger station. Construction started 1909, the building is still in existence today.


As recreational development pressure increased on the Trappers Lake area, Arthur Carhart, landscape architect for the Forest Service, was sent to the lake in 1919 to make a survey for 100 home sites around the lake that had been authorized in accordance with the Summer Home Act of 1915. After making the trip, Carhart convinced his supervisor to set aside the development idea, which later became the basis for the 1964 Wilderness Act. To this day, Trappers Lake is known as the Cradle of Wilderness.

“There are a number of places with scenic values of such great worth that they are rightfully the property of all people. They should be preserved for all time for all people of the nation and the world. Trappers Lake is unquestionably a candidate for that classification.” – Arthur Carhart


The 1930s were a period of transformation for the forest with the help of the newly formed Civilian Conservation Corps, which was enacted by Franklin D. Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression and “hard times.” In 1933, the first CCC camps on the forest were established in the Buford area near Ute Creek and the Tigiwon Camp, south of the Minturn area.

These camps led to trail and infrastructure improvements. The Norrie CCC camp, established in 1935, helped to begin the work on Chapman Dam, which was completed in 1939. With the help of the CCC the Holy Cross and White River National Forests were becoming prime recreational destinations for the state and the nation.

In 1940, Glenwood Springs followed Aspen’s lead and began work on the Red Mountain Ski tow, the CCC played an important part in the actualization of the project. A corporation headed by Dr. Earl Garland with the help of the city, purchased a wire rope from a mine in the Ouray area. Forest Service cooperation included a review of the plans and a new ski trail and lift line cleared by CCC crews. The lift finally opened for skiing in 1942, but did not see much use because of the war. The daily ticket prices were set at $1 for adults and 60 cents for students and free admission for military personnel.

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