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|July 16 - July 22, 2009
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Preserving our past
City program aims to restore Boulder’s cultural landscape
by Pamela White
History isn’t the reason most people choose to hike in Boulder’s mountain backdrop. And yet these foothills are rich not only in natural beauty, but also human history. That’s a message Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) would like to send to local residents — and a new focus for OSMP.
“We have a lot of really wonderful things on our property,” says Delani Wheeler, a division manager for OSMP.
Preserving these wonderful things — American Indian artifacts, the remainders of homesteads and other remnants of the human past — has long been a goal for OSMP, but one that hasn’t received funding until recently.
“We started our cultural-resources program at a policy level quite a long time ago,” Wheeler says. “In the late ’80s or early ’90s, we wrote our first set of policies, and then we had those adopted as cultural-resources guidelines back in ’95 when the department adopted it’s long-range management processes. But we didn’t have a specific person or a specific program identified for it.”
In August 2008, Julia Johnson, already an OSMP employee, became that person.
“I am it,” Johnson says. “I am she.”
In the past year, Johnson has overseen the cultural-resources component of the West Trail Study Area (TSA) process, including commissioning the first paleontological study for the West TSA area. She’s also been occupied with restoration projects on Flagstaff, including masonry work on Halfway House and Green Mountain Lodge, both of which were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression.
“The buildings are actually in good shape. There’s been maintenance work done on them, but there hasn’t been actual preservation work. Those are two different things. I think it’s pretty exciting that we actually got started on something,” Johnson says.
Halfway House, near Panorama Point, has just had masonry work done its on floor and outside where mortar was crumbling away. The flagstone floor has also been cleaned of decades worth of smoky grime. Johnson says efforts were made to preserve as much of the moss and lichens on the rock as possible because both are part of the building’s “historical patina.”
Halfway House was first built in 1916 by the Lyons Club as the first public picnic shelter on Flagstaff. But a rebuild of Flagstaff Road by the CCC resulted in the road running past the front of the shelter. So the CCC built a bigger and more enclosed Halfway House in 1935. This includes a patio and restrooms just down the hill.
“Yes, we have a historic loo,” Johnson says.
And 75 years later that loo still operates — much to the literal relief of hikers, rock climbers and picnickers.
Johnson says work will begin next on Green Mountain Lodge, which sits at the top of Gregory Canyon at the junction of Long Canyon Trail and Ranger Trail. Built in 1934, the lodge is currently closed due to maintenance issues, but should be open to the public soon.
Johnson says it feels right to her that these and other CCC structures get some restoration work now, given our nation’s current economic struggles.
“We are in a recession. They were in the Great Depression. All of this is part of the New Deal. Bringing these back to life is a way of respecting the people who were here,” she says.
But economic struggles may determine how much the Cultural-Resources Program is able to accomplish. Johnson’s position must be renewed at the end of January. If money isn’t allotted for the position, cultural-resources preservation will revert to being a goal of OSMP, rather than a program.
“We’re very interested in extending this position in future years,” Wheeler says. “We’re just putting our 2010 budget together, and this is a position we will be asking the city manager’s office to allow us to continue to fund, and we believe we have sufficient funding to do it.”
One of the goals of the program is to get people interested in preservation and to let them know a little bit about their own history. To that end, Johnson has put together three historic hikes that offer the public a chance to see these cultural resources and learn something about Boulder’s past. Each of the hikes has a theme.
For the Dowdy Draw Area, it’s a homesteading theme, as the Dowdy Draw picnic area sits on what used to be a homestead and dairy. For the South Mesa Trailhead, its historic theme focuses on homesteading, agriculture and summer recreation. For Flagstaff Summit, the themes are New Deal Construction and the CCC, Boulder history and recreation.
Johnson hopes the hikes will give the public a new way of interacting with the landscape. These structures on the land aren’t just interesting to observe or photograph, but represent decades of personal Boulder history. The homesteads are tied to the histories of specific families, but are also representative of the histories of so many families who came west to Colorado. The CCC structures, built during a period of economic hardship, have enriched the lives of local residents, becoming the sites of countless picnics, weddings, receptions, scout day camps — and offering curious kids something to climb on. And the archaeological artifacts give us a glimpse of the pre-settlement history of this region.
“We provide the context for a lot of Boulder’s history,” Wheeler says. “In a lot of places you might have a site that’s preserved all by itself, but it doesn’t have the landscape surrounding it that is the way that it was when it happened. So we’re preserving the landscapes that have these features in them.”
For more information on OSMP’s Cultural Resources Program and the historical hikes, go to www.osmp.org and look under Trails & Recreation.
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