Trappers Lake Lodge will rise from the ashes
As backcountry lodges go, Trappers Lake Lodge hardly boasted the size or majesty of the grand old structures gracing Grand Canyon or Yellowstone national parks.
It was perhaps only 30 by 40 feet in dimension, says its owner, Dan Stogsdill. Befitting the name of the lake it overlooks, it was an old trappers’ cabin.
“If you were over 6 foot 2, you banged your head,” he said.
But compared to other lodges of the West, this one held its own for scenery and history, until it was claimed by the Big Fish Fire Aug. 16.
The lodge was built in 1918 after a previous structure, possibly built before the start of the 20th century, also was gutted in a fire. Open even in winter, when it was accessible by snowmobile or snowcoach, it afforded year-round views of the crown jewel of lakes in the Flat Tops Wilderness.
Trappers Lake, a mile long and filled with deep blue water, is partly encircled by escarpments that form a natural amphitheater.
The lake and the surrounding mountains and forests have drawn thousands of visitors over the years to enjoy the hiking, hunting, boating, cross-country skiing and other attractions of a stunning and remote corner of Colorado.
Stogsdill has had guests come up and scatter the ashes of parents or grandparents who loved coming to Trappers Lake. These same guests introduced their children to its splendors.
“You see this and you kind of fall in love,” said Tony Weis, a Meeker gallery owner who lives 19 miles from Trappers Lake and first visited it when he was 6.
“Trappers Lake, to me, has just been great to go up to and put my canoe in. … I understand it will come back, but you do have memories,” he said of the lodge. “It’s a little bit of the past that I won’t see again.”
Stogsdill understands how fond such memories can be.
As an attorney in Lincoln, Neb., he first had a summer home in the area about 15 years ago. He and his wife, Melinda, are now going into their sixth season as owners of the lodge and cabin operation. In spite of the fire, they have every intention of continuing.
He can’t bring back what was lost, but the beauty of the lake and region remain, and he can rebuild and continue to provide a place where memories can be made.
Stogsdill had insurance for what burned, though it won’t cover all his losses.
“We’re not going to let that stop us. We’re going to come back,” he said.
The lodge has had many owners, but Stogsdill doesn’t plan to be the latest to turn around and sell, although he hadn’t yet made it profitable, even before the fire.
“We’ve taken a personal interest in it,” he said. “We’re committed to making it a better place and improving the experience. We won’t run from that obligation.”
Stogsdill lost four cabins, a barn/bunkhouse and a recreation building to the fire. Fifteen cabins are still standing.
In rebuilding the lodge, he doesn’t aspire to create something the lodge was not. Some changes will have to be made, he said, but he envisions a “simple and respectful” replacement for what was lost.
“We really want to try to respect the historical structure of the lodge. The last thing we need is some big, mammoth lodge there dwarfing the rest of the compound,” he said.
The resort is located on national forest land. Stogsdill pays an annual fee to the Forest Service. White River National Forest spokesperson Sue Froeschle said new construction will require approval by the agency. Plans were already in place to improve the lodge, if the time ever came.
“They’re dusting that off and they’re going to visit revisit that,” she said.
The fire left Stogsdill with little to work with as he rebuilds. The only things left standing were the fireplace and a wooden flagpole – with its U.S. flag miraculously unsinged by the flames.
The only other recognizable thing Stogsdill could find was an intact dish that was inside a dishwasher.
Stogsdill is particularly chagrined by the loss of the logs that formed the lodge. But from a historical perspective, the biggest loss would be the fireplace, if it isn’t structurally sound enough to save.
That stone tower may have existed prior to 1918, and is “very much an emblem” of the lodge, said Stogsdill.
When the fire advanced and fire managers ordered an evacuation, Stogsdill had only a few hours to grab things.
“We did get the horses out, which was a blessing,” he said.
He was back in business nearly as quickly as he was put out. The first priorities were to re-establish electricity, a propane supply and phone service.
“We’ve been moving really fast and hard,” said Stogsdill. “We’re very committed to having a season for guests this year.”
Salvage operations should be finished soon, and clients are being served meals out of a tent.
Those clients include guests with reservations, escorted in on the closed Trappers Lake Road, Forest Road 205. Fire crews are also a large portion of the clientele.
Stogsdill, who has otherwise declined to second-guess the Forest Service’s handling of the fire, said the agency has kept the road closed longer than necessary. He considers the road safe to travel.
“We’d love to serve our guests. We’re not going to roll over and let the 100 years of history go to waste,” he said.
As Stogsdill looks to the future, he expects to hear more about the colorful past of a place that held a special attraction for so many.
“I think as this unfolds, we’re going to have people coming out of the woodwork with their stories,” he said.
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