Clark The willow tree in front of the Old Clark School is perfect for climbing. Its gnarly branches connect to the trunk at ground level, tempting children and adults to take a climb.
When Bill Fetcher went to the country school in the early '50s, he said the willow was known as the monkey tree, and he and his friends would climb on it between studying and learning lessons.
"It was even big back then," he said while standing in front of the newly renovated schoolhouse.
Now the tree is back in the climbing business. On Sunday, Fetcher was among a number of one-time students of the schoolhouse who came to help cut the ribbon during a ceremony in the reincarnation of the old building.
After a year and a half of work, the North Routt Community Charter School is officially open, as its 15 elementary-aged children start their second week of class in the building today. To celebrate, and to cut the ceremonial ribbon, community members in North Routt and in Steamboat who helped make it happen enjoyed a potluck lunch and a tour of the building with former students, current students and parents.
"This is our celebration for a year and a half of very hard work," charter board member Shauna Watterson said to the crowd before the ribbon was cut.
The redesign of the building, which once was a residence, is sharp. It has rooms for the younger and older students, a cozy room with a wood-burning stove to read and a full kitchen for lunch.
"It is nice," charter board member Sandy Clark said while giving a tour of the building. "We just love it."
The end result is a place for local North Routt children to go to school like their elders once did, in an old-time, small school in the community in which they live.
"The kids have a real sense of family at the school," Clark said.
One goal, along with a good education, is to instill a sense of community in the children who attend. When they get older and go to the "big-kid" schools in Steamboat and then move on to college or work outside Routt County, they will continue to notice and cultivate a sense of community in their surroundings, Clark said.
After the ribbon cutting, the food and the tours, the crowd went to the monkey tree for a skit put on by the children attending the school, directed by teacher Cindy Gantick. The audience was delighted and the children looked happy.
"Just watching that skit was one of the reasons we sent our daughter here," parent Robyn Jankoski said.
Jankoski and her husband, Billy, didn't make the decision to send their 6-year-old daughter, Katie, to the school until the last minute and almost decided just to bus her to Steamboat.
"I'm sure glad we didn't," Jankoski said.
"I think it's more personal," Billy Jankoski said. "It's really one-on-one."
Nick Zupan, father of 5-year-old Will, was equally as happy.
"I just though it was a good curriculum and that it would be a great thing for the kids to go to a country school," he said.
Plus, Zupan and the Jankoskis both noted this is the place all of their children's friends were going.