On a crisp North Routt day last September, the Medicine Bow-Routt Forest Leadership Team and Hahn's Peak-Bears Ears Ranger District staff gathered at the Summit Creek Guard Station, north of Columbine.
This was no ordinary meeting. It was a potluck to honor Forest Service retirees, many of whom still live in the Yampa Valley, and to interview them regarding their service to an agency that is turning 100 years old this year.
Among the distinguished was Lynn Jones, who was born in Steamboat Springs in 1919, graduated from Hayden High School in 1936 and began working for the U.S. Forest Service in 1949 after his service in World War II. He worked as a trails supervisor, rangeland management specialist, bridge builder, timber cruiser and general district assistant. The latter, Jones said, was a job "that meant doing the jobs that no one else wanted to do. There was never a dull moment in the Forest Service in 27 years, I liked the job. I could tell one hundred stories from that period of years, some of them were good, some not so good!"
Cap Kuney, a recent retiree with almost 40 years of service under his belt, said that in the 1960s and 1970s, a person could do several different jobs, unlike today where there are so many specialized fields. Kuney worked in timber, range, trails, and later in his career, air and water quality monitoring.
When Jones was hired in 1949, management within the agency wanted to burn down the Summit Creek Guard Station and build anew. As an opponent of the idea, Jones went to work restoring and stabilizing the cabin, now on the National Register of Historic Places. He worked on it alone for two weeks straight.
"All I did was work on the cabin and eat suppers, then I went back to work, there was nothing else to do," he said.
Today, the Summit Creek Guard Station is one of the forest's most precious gems, still a working guard station and planned as a seasonal rental to the public.
Jones recalled that during his tenure, most of the roads on the district were only for four-wheel drive.
Kuney, a longtime resident of Steamboat Springs, recounted a story about Jones, his first supervisor, regarding a fire during which a slurry plane was lost in Lost Park near Sand Mountain. He remembered his supervisor fondly as a "walker."
Jones proceeded to "walk" Kuney's brother-in-law, Mike Buchanan, from the Clark ranch into Lost Park to keep watch on the fire, alone. Jones left him with the appropriate tools, walked out that night and was back at daylight with more crews.
"I am paying for that now," Jones said. "These knees are bone against bone!"
Larry Belton, a Forest Service retiree and longtime rancher, noted that his first supervisor, Ray Klumker, was another one of those walkers.
"He and I and Lynn went to look at a road up by Seedhouse," Belton said. "When I got back I said I'd never go out with that guy again, he liked to have damn near killed me. Both of them (Jones and Klumker) could walk faster than any humans I have ever seen in my life. They liked to do it just to make you suffer. He was even worse with the office folk from the supervisor's office and the district who went out in the field with him. Lynn and Ray worked a lot together, building things down at the shop in the winter and you always saw Lynn with a cup of coffee in one hand and a hammer in the other, and you had better stay the hell out of his way."
Belton has given over 30 years to the agency maintaining the complex system of roads in the forest.
Developing the transportation system and infrastructure was a high priority as the agency began to cater to the baby boom generation and its recreational forest users. Jones presided over several projects in the Routt National Forest in the 1950s through the 1970s. He remembers helping to move the present-day California Park Guard Station from the Gould (North Park) CCC camp to where it is today. A carpenter and mason from Steamboat Springs put up the block work on which they placed the transported building.
Jones also built bridges near Centennial and along the Snowy Range road, working seasonally out of Laramie. He later worked on six bridges along the new U.S. Highway 40; a difficult winter job because one often had to get down in the icy water to dig out foundations. Of the 25 to 30 bridges that he built for the Forest Service, the most interesting was the upper bridge of Fish Creek Falls. It was an exciting event when, in 1971, a helicopter hauled in equipment and unloaded it in what is now known as the Sanctuary.
"We unloaded the material at the Sanctuary and they asked how long it would take me to walk up to the bridge site and I said 20 minutes, so they flew me up instead and let me out on a rock; it didn't touch down, I had to jump out," Kuney recalled.
He stayed there and unhooked the sling loads as they came with plywood and forms and concrete. They poured the forms with a helicopter, and he would catch the bucket. Once the helicopter came in too low and got caught up in the bushes, it lost its load of cement in the creek, but miraculously got out. Forest Service retirees Dan McIntyre and Bob Booth, both just back from Vietnam, thought the helicopter was going down and they instinctively headed for cover.
When asked about the type of changes he saw the agency go through during his tenure, Belton noted the increase in laws, regulations and en----vironmental re----view.
"My first job in 1968 was doing some 'dozer work up Seedhouse Road," he said. "Where there was a little tight spot in the road, I took the dozer and ripped out all the dirt and rock, everything, and put it right in the river. I would not be able to do that today."
Sometimes the job became an adventure. Jones recounte d an eventful foray into Whiskey Park in the 1970s. He was working with Will Deisel in the middle of the winter and they decided to cruise timber in Whiskey Park. They drove to Hahn's Peak, unloaded snowmobiles and headed toward the park. However, it proceeded to snow two feet, preventing them from making it into the park. The next day, they tried to make it to Whiskey, snowshoeing ahead. They made it through Whiskey and Crane Parks and stayed in a special-uses cabin in Crane Park. On the third day, they made it from Crane Park to the Summit Creek Guard Station.
"It us took 30 minutes to get in and 3 days to get out," Jones said.
Lee Jensen, the district ranger in Yampa from 1968 to 1976, said he saw many changes during his tenurd, including the advent of the computer.
"When I started with the Forest Service, I got out in the field nine days in a pay period, when I retired I was lucky to get one. I don't know if that's progress or not," he said. "In the early days, district rangers were expected to spend 75 percent of their time in the field. Also, it was expected that everyone went out on fire."
He also mentions one of the more notable changes within the agency: more women in the field and in the office.
Don Vogel, a former law enforcement officer for more than 25 years, spent many nights in the old guard stations. He recalls a funny story Station that happened near Summit Creek Guard while he was rigging a device to alert the office about illegal four-wheeler use in the area. Suddenly a guy rode up on an four-wheeler and asked, "Do you need any help?"
Vogel recalled a time when Kuney took him on a snowmobiles up the back side of Hahn's Peak. "I just hoped that the sled wouldn't cut out on me on the ridge. It was even scarier coming down," he said.
Kuney recalled being the first person up Hahn's Peak on a Ski Doo in 1968.
"People didn't believe I did it," he said. "They thought I flew it up there."
So what kind of advice did retirees have for young people in the agency? They stressed the importance of getting out in the field, walking, and getting away from the computer and all the memos. The group remembers a previous district ranger, Bill Konklin, as being a great example of this.
"He would jump in the pickup and come out to have lunch with us and talk to us in the field, he wanted to see what was happening out there," retiree Bob Aeberg recalled. "He was a fantastic person and supervisor, he would get out there and be a part of the crew."
Our time with the old guard of the Forest Service was full of laughter, advice and introspection as elders and neophytes alike packed into a guard station built in 1912 to house a ranger and his horse.
From their more than 200 combined years of experience and memories of the Routt National Forest, we were reminded how the agency has morphed from a fledgling operation of a few men to a diverse multi-faceted organization with its share of specialists, women and public constituencies; challenges, rewards, partners, advocates, and of course, opponents.
Ever since the Routt National Forest, then called the Park Range Forest Preserve, was established by Teddy Roosevelt in 1905, land managers have endeavored to stay on the path of "Caring for the Land and Serving People," negotiating their way through the woods and the paperwork.
Angie KenCairn is a heritage specialist for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.