Deb Babcock: Seedhouse did store seeds in Routt County

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Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

As long as I've lived in Steamboat, I've been curious about the origins of the name given to the road that takes me to a favorite hiking area. If it's called Seedhouse Road, then there must have been a seedhouse there sometime, right? Just what is a seedhouse? And why was one located in the national forest?

Thanks to the help of the research center at the Tread of Pioneers Museum and Angie KenCairn of the U.S. Forest Service, I now have answers to my questions.

Think about Routt County in the early 1900s - the Routt National Forest had just been established by Theodore Roosevelt, and logging of pine, fir and spruce trees was starting to increase. Within a few years of President Roosevelt establishing the forest, rangers tallied the species and numbers of trees in it. In 1908, they counted 1.6 billion feet board measure of live lodgepole pine, Englemann spruce, Balsam fir, Douglas Fir, yellow pine, aspen, cottonwood and junipers, and 581 million FBM of dead wood.

With so many conifers at hand, the Forest Service in 1910 erected a seed plant and building at the confluence of the middle and north forks of the Elk River. It was here that employees of the Forest Service collected and dried seeds harvested from spruce and pinecones. (Actually, the squirrels collected the cones, and Forest Service employees raided the squirrel caches.) Using wood fires to dry the cones and force them to shed their seeds, the rangers stored the seeds in the log sheds and then packaged them for distribution to growers all over the world.

In 1912, the Forest Service built an administrative office on this site. Although it was officially named the North Fork Administrative Station, locals called it the Seedhouse, and finally, in 1929, the Forest Service gave in to the popular name and renamed the building the Seedhouse Administration Site.

After only a couple years, it was found to be too costly to operate the seed-harvesting operation, and the site was abandoned for that purpose and used as a temporary ranger station. In 1934, a new two-room cabin was built to replace the original one, and a barn and garage were added a couple years later. The site was used as a training camp. Today, the guard station, the garage and the barn are still in service and used by work crews and volunteers who help maintain our wonderful national forest. The public also is welcome to rent the Seedhouse Guard Station in winter by calling (877) 833-6777 or visiting www.ReserveUSA.com.

Although the original 1912 structures are no longer on the site, it is rumored that the original Seedhouse was dismantled and moved to a location somewhere in southern Routt County.

If you hike in forests in other parts of the world that have a "feel" similar to our own Routt National Forest, imagine that perhaps the seeds of the forest came from our little seedhouse operation.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Office in Routt County. Much of the information for this article came from the files of the Routt National Forest. Questions? Call 879-0825 or e-mail gardeners@co.routt.co.us.

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