Mad Creek landowners
- James H. Ratliff took possession of the land in November 1903 and patented his claim in May 1907
- Stapleton and Jones owned the land from 1914 to 1919
- Courtney Ives, 1919-1923
- George Ives, 1923-1947
- Fred and Lucille Ives, 1947-1963
- Donald and Nancy Hoelzen, 1963-1979
- U.S. government, 1979 to present
Ratliff embodied transition from private to public
James "Harry" Ratliff (1879-1956) began cattle ranching along Mad Creek in 1903. When President Teddy Roosevelt established the Park Range Forest Reserve (later name Routt National Forest) just two years later, Ratliff didn't exactly embrace the change. Ratliff was cutting down trees and building his Mad Creek Barn in 1906 when good friend John "Jack" Ellis stopped in to see him. Ellis had become the first forest guard for the new reserve. Ellis contended Ratliff needed a permit to cut the trees and another one to graze his cattle.
An indignant Ratliff chased Ellis away. Ironically, Ratliff soon replaced Ellis as the forest guard. He proved to be a wise steward of the land, helping to restore peace among cattle barons and homesteaders and to facilitate the construction of a road over Rabbit Ears Pass.
Steamboat Springs A small piece of U.S. Forest Service history will be erased from the landscape this summer when the old Mad Creek Guard Station is demolished.
The guard station is a 1960s-era structure that housed wilderness rangers and trail building crews. It should not be confused with the historic Mad Creek Barn, said Forest Service heritage specialist Angie KenCairn said.
"This is not a classic U.S. Forest Service building," KenCairn said. "We really hate to let it go, but the real attraction here was the location. And we just don't have the money necessary to make it safe."
During the course of more than a decade, a procession of Forest Service field workers enjoyed an idyllic summer lifestyle in the "Mad House." At one time, a sign proclaiming its name with letters fashioned from bleached cow bones was nailed over the front door.
Wilderness Ranger John Anarella, now with the Yampa Ranger District, shared some of his memories of the time he spent in the guard station. He recalls a day in summer 1987 when a couple on horseback and trailing a pack horse rode up to the guard station.
"The man's name was Lewis Levine," Anarella recalled. "He'd gone in on horseback to look for people after Mount St. Helens erupted (in 1980), and he had been riding virtually ever since."
Levine had to be hospitalized after his experience on the volcano, Anarella said, and while in the hospital, he met his wife. When he recovered, they left their homes behind and set out riding cross-country on horseback.
"We hung out around the campfire swapping stories," Anarella said.
The modern house that became the guard station, or crew house, was built in the early 1960s when the land was privately owned and ranched by the Donald and Nancy Hoelzen family. The Mad Creek Barn, which stands about 50 feet away, was stabilized in 2001 and remains a valuable cultural resource that will always be protected, KenCairn said.
Diann Ritschard, a public affairs specialist with the Medicine Bow Routt National Forest, said the Mad Creek Guard Station does not qualify for historic designation. However, the Forest Service has contacted Historic Routt County and Laureen Schaffer, the historic preservation specialist with the city of Steamboat Springs, to make them aware of the plans.
The guard station at Mad Creek is emblematic of another era in Forest Service history when its district rangers, and often their families, lived in the modest buildings on the remote edges of the forest.
When a change in organizational culture led the Forest Service to build larger, centralized headquarters in cities and towns, the guard stations remained in service for work crews. That's no longer the case.
Several of the guard stations on the Routt National Forest and neighboring forests have been refurbished and now are available as cozy cabin rentals for the public.
However, KenCairn said, the Mad Creek Guard Station doesn't share the architectural charm and historic qualities of places such as the Seedhouse, Summit and Grizzly Creek guard stations.
No longer in use, it's difficult to keep in good repair. Add to that the fact the foundation has become a foul pit of animal waste, and the building's fate was sealed.
KenCairn and her colleagues have been busy this spring completing a cultural survey of the site and have added to the base of knowledge about human activity in the area about 5.5 miles up the Elk River from the western city limits of Steamboat Springs.
KenCairn has found evidence the grassy bench above the roaring creek was used thousands of years ago by "archaic" native tribes. A nondescript stone she recognizes as a grinding tool suggests to her that people camped at this site to pulverize acorns for food.
An area once thought to be a garbage dump is now believed to be the site of one of several cabins that no longer stand in the meadow. KenCairn pointed out a fairly ornate iron bed frame poking out of the ground. She picked up a heavy piece of lavender-tinted glass that is a telltale of the era in which it was manufactured - pre-World War I.
The guard station may go, but the rich history of Mad Creek Valley will live on.
- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205
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