Steamboat Springs Fence-building expert Ed Mumm had been giving the Community Fence Day volunteers plenty of advice as they trained to fix the 70-year-old fence at Legacy Ranch. Their interest peaked when he snapped off a piece of the thick fence wire with a swift flick of his fingers.
Mumm continued talking about new fence technologies and the disadvantages of barbed-wire fences. But the damage had been done.
"What I want to learn is how you break that wire off with you fingernail," said a volunteer when Mumm asked for questions.
The 14 people who arrived at 8 a.m. put in a full day's work on a 2-mile section of rusted barbed-wire fence. The Community Agriculture Alliance, which hosted the first-time event, provided leather gloves, while Elk River Farm and Feed provided the necessary tools. Local 4-H members gave workers a break at 2 p.m., with a barbecue of Yampa Valley Beef.
"It's just another opportunity to be part of the community and its ranching history and heritage," said Steven Conners. "I work for the ski corporation, so all I know is the hotels and ski business." On breaking the wire barehanded, he added, "It's not as easy as (Mumm) makes it look."
The group broke up into three teams. Two worked toward each other, mending the fence from opposite ends, while another drove off to another section to remove a fence. Former Olympic skier Hank Kashiwa was on the team mending the farthest end of the fence.
"You get to interface with the community at its root level," Kashiwa said. "So much of the culture that is part of Steamboat is in its ranching heritage."
Kashiwa also got to set an example as the head of Athletes for Character Education, which trains Olympians to be able to interact with children and serve as role models.
Mending fences on the near side was another Olympian, medalist Billy Kidd, who has lived in Steamboat since 1970. He spent part of the morning asking Fran and Brenda Madden's children, Joe and Nicholas, about their skiing preferences. The Maddens had settled in town from Chicago only a week ago.
"I just heard about it and I thought it would be cool to get them out on a real ranch," said Madden, who came from a "typical Chicago suburb."
Kashiwa and Kidd provided a significant symbol for the event, said Ellen Stein of the Agriculture Alliance. Their presence displayed the interdependence and mutually beneficial relationship between the recreational and ranching sides of Steamboat, she said.
"People who didn't grow up here have this image of the Old West, and this ranch represents the historical West a lot of people think of," Kidd said.
The land was previously owned by the Yampa Valley Land and Cattle Co. Several city, county, state and private entities collaborated to purchase the developing rights to large parcels of the 3,800-acre property. The city owns the 131 acres that make up Legacy Ranch, a functional hayfield dotted with daffodils, sunflowers and aging farm buildings.
"It's a very scenic place," said Susan Otis, Director of the Yampa Valley Land Trust. "It's the gateway to the city."