Park County Heritage Site Planning Project:
Park County recently prepared comprehensive site plans for five high priority heritage properties in the region. These plans provide the local partnership with a blueprint for preserving and preparing each site for appropriate types and levels of adaptive use.
Buffalo Peaks (Guiraud) Ranch:
The Guiraud or Buffalo Peaks Ranch has been the focus of much discussion and ad hoc planning during the last three years. Owned by the City of Aurora, five miles of the Middle Fork of the South Platte are leased by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and designated as Gold Medal Trout Water.
Established in 1863 along the South Platte River near Fairplay, Buffalo Peaks Ranch was originally the Guiraud Ranch. As one of the oldest ranches in South Park, this 1,840-acre cattle ranch and its associated structures are now eligible for listing on the Local, State and National Registers of Historic Places. After Adolph Guiraud’s death in 1875, his widow increased the ranch holdings to 5,000 acres and raised large herds of cattle and huge hay crops. She also founded the nearby town site of Garo in 1879 to serve the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railway. Tracks crossed the Guiraud Ranch just west of the main ranch house, where the rail bed remains to this day. The property and several extant but vacant structures are now owned by the City of Aurora.
Planning elelments for the ranch encompass the following:
- Maintain the existing cattle grazing operation.
- Rehabilitate the main ranch house and all outbuildings
- Develop agricultural research opportunities
Re-establish a working cattle ranch that offers public lodging, dining and meeting facilities
Design space to display and interpret regional cultural archives and artifacts
Provide a seasonal facility for the South Park Archaeology Project
- Develop on-site education programs that preserve and promote Park County's heritage
Restore/enhance three miles of Gold Medal trout stream and associated riparian habitat
Preserve/interpret high altitude wetlands (fens) on the ranch
Develop wildlife and bird viewing stations
Promote the ranch as a fishing destination
Identify and develop other ranch recreation/education opportunities
Adapt the main ranch house for retail and service providers (book sales, fly shop, guides, etc.)
Establish a facility for the 15,000-volume Rocky Mountain Land Library collection & supporting accommodations
Once an important site for processing gold ore from the mines above Alma, this multi-level structure is now languishing at 11,000 feet. Constructed in 1894, the mill is one of Park County’s most significant historic mining resources, is a Park County Historic Landmark, and is eligible for both the National and State Registers of Historic Places. Park County recently secured a conservation easement on the mill and surrounding 265 acres that supports a rare alpine plant community. The County also holds an option to purchase the structure and 16-acre mill site. Unless funding is secured to preserve the mill, it will either yield to the elements or be vandalized into non-existence. Accordingly, in 2004 Colorado Preservation, Inc. listed the Paris Mill as one of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places.
Located about three miles west of Alma in Buckskin Gulch, the now abandoned Paris Mill has been the subject of three general assessments and many an artist’s brush. The mill is a large, sprawling structure with aerial tramway connections to mines on Loveland Mountain and Mount Bross, hundreds of feet above. These mines were the richest strikes in the Alma Mining District, producing gold, silver and lead ore for decades. But time and unstable metal values forced the mill to close in 1951, following over 50 years of operation. The mill was activated again briefly during the 1970s by the Mount Bross Mining Company to re-process old mine tailings, but was effectively abandoned shortly thereafter. Today, the Paris Mill is a Park County Historic Landmark and is eligible for both the National and State Registers of Historic Places.
Once acquired by the County, the mill and surrounding site pose a challenging restoration project, as well as the following possibilities:
- Interpretive picnic (day use) area
- Guided mill tours
- Public stream fishing
- Backcountry ski lodge and cabins
- Summer campground
- High altitude search & rescue basecamp facility
After a route through the mountains was engineered, the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railway reached South Park in 1879. Over time Como emerged as a railroad center for South Park and beyond. Built by Italian stonemasons in 1881, Como Roundhouse (National Register) originally housed 6 engine bays where engines could locally be rebuilt, and an iron turntable where engines could be turned around. One of only a few remaining 19th Century stone roundhouses in Colorado, the Roundhouse is considered "the holy of holies" for narrow gauge buffs.
Boreas Pass Railroad Day is held each summer along the twisting alpine road that bears its name. Organized by the U.S. Forest Service and railroad clubs from around the region, this annual event celebrates the people, sites and ingenuity that contribute to Park County’s railroading heritage. Starting in Como, railroad buffs tour the Roundhouse and Depot before proceeding up the pass to Rocky Point and the Boreas Pass Section House (National Register).
The scale and unique nature of the Roundhouse make the efficacy of long-term use both compelling and challenging. Location of the Roundhouse within the state affords opportunities to develop a staging area and information center for nearby heritage attractions and destinations. The historic (abandoned) rail grade to Jefferson and Breckenridge provides an opportunity to thematically link other towns and historic resources in the area. Accordingly, the USFS has expressed interest in working with the owners to provide visitor orientation and interpretation.
Park County has proposed a public-private partnership with the owners to adaptively reuse the Roundhouse as a railroad museum, a venue for fine arts performances, and/or a visitor information center. The small, rural character of Como should be retained while accommodating increased visitation through heritage tourism development. Such development and use will require a high level of cooperation among owners of the Roundhouse, Depot and Hotel, the community, Park County, U.S. Forest Service and others.
Salt Works Ranch & Colorado Salt Works:
Now protected by a conservation easement, Salt Works Ranch encompasses over 700 acres and includes the original homestead site. A wide variety of log and wood frame buildings and structures typical of a successful large-scale ranching operation remain on the site. The property is also important for its association with Thomas McQuaid who played an active leadership role among Colorado ranchers. McQuaid oversaw operation of the ranch from 1911 until his death at 105 years of age. During his tenure, the ranch expanded to cover more than 87,000 acres. This still working ranch has been recognized as a Colorado Centennial Farm.
Salt Works Ranch (National Register) is thought to be Colorado’s oldest working cattle ranch owned by the same family. Homesteaded by Charles Hall, the ranch has operated continuously since 1862. Of particular interest is the Second Empire style main house that dates from the early 1870s. One famous resident of the ranch was Broadway actress Antoinette "Toni" Perry, after whom the Toni Awards were named. Born in Denver in 1888, Antoinette was Charles Hall’s Granddaughter. Today Perry’s grandchildren own the ranch jointly.
Also on the ranch, the Colorado Salt Works Complex (National Register) reflects one of the state’s earliest industrial enterprises and is now the only surviving example of a 1860s kettle and pan salt production facility in the U.S.
Through this planning process the owners have evaluated suitability of the site for a Western Ranch history museum. Moreover, the economic feasibility of such adaptive uses have been quantified. However, a more comprehensive master plan may be necessary to fully integrate future use of the Salt Works complex with the larger ranch.
Together these nationally significant properties may hold potential for adaptive reuse as a heritage center, events venue, and interpretive site. The family has expressed enthusiastic support for this concept and have established a foundation for the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the site. They have also expressed a desire to allow public access on a prearranged (only) basis.
Santa Maria (EM) Ranch:
This classic Western ranch is located three miles north of Hartsel and is bisected by 1.3 miles of the South Platte River. A conservation easement now protects wildlife habitat, wetlands, open space, water resources, ranch recreation opportunities and numerous historic structures. A new guesthouse on the property provides limited overnight accommodations and secluded fly-fishing experiences on the river. Resident caretakers perform maintenance and upkeep as required to keep the ranch in working condition.
A feasibility study and site plan prepared for the Santa Maria Ranch encompasses the original 1874 homestead of Hardy Epperson. Several other 19th-Century structures, including a large ranch house, barn, bunkhouse, loafing shed, and small cabin remain intact within the headquarters complex on this 2,560-acre property. Most buildings are in fair to good condition, but the ranch house needs significant rehabilitation. Numerous fences, corrals and other features associated with ranching exist on this agrarian landscape. Listed as a National Historic District, the ranch also contains a warm spring and over one mile of Gold Medal trout stream.
Goals for the ranch include fully restoring several structures, using the ranch in traditional ways, maintaining the private residence, sharing ranch facilities with certain non-profit public organizations, and generating funding to rehabilitate the surviving two-story ranch house. While they never want the ranch developed as a destination resort, they would like one or two additional guest facilities, similar to the existing guesthouse. Along with these improvements, there are also additional water and septic system improvement requirements. Ultimately the owners would like to offer low-key rentals and scheduled tours/events related to ranch preservation, bird watching, equestrian activities, and agricultural operations. They also want to encourage use of the ranch by small, self-contained groups such as cancer survivors, riding clubs or the Audubon Society.