Houses near Priest Creek part of annual Steamboat tour |

Houses near Priest Creek part of annual Steamboat tour

— Anyone who has ever skied Steamboat Springs has tasted the powder of the gladed tree runs in Priest Creek. But anyone for whom a run through Priest Creek conjures up images of a paralleling padre has entirely the wrong picture.

Priest Creek wasn't named after a man of the cloth but a pioneer, Chester Priest, who was the first settler on the little creek that pours off the southwest flank of Mount Werner. And the remaining evidence of Chester Priest's years on Priest Creek will tie together two of the most interesting homes Saturday on the 2011 Strings Kitchen and Garden Tour.

Priest's homestead cabin, in remarkable condition, will be available for viewing adjacent to Laurie and Neal Sittig's historic home just south of Steamboat on Routt County Road 24 (first left off U.S. Highway 40 beyond Haymaker Golf Course). Just up the hill is the contemporary home of Toni and Mike Hennessy in Priest Creek Ranch.

Both homes have remarkable vegetable gardens already in full growth. And both gardens share something special: Chester Priest's pioneer raspberry bushes.

The Sittigs, who ran cattle on the historic Kemry Ranch before the development of Alpine Mountain Ranch (just south of their home), manage Priest Creek Ranch, and the two families have formed a friendship.

The two homes are notably different from each other, but history and vegetable gardening bind them together.

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"I love being able to look out over Laurie and Neal's barn," Toni Hennessy said.

She is a master gardener in Routt County and is devoted to growing organic vegetables in raised beds within a stout elk fence on the south side of her home that affords views into the Flat Tops Wilderness Area.

"I really enjoy growing the vegetables and herbs and bringing them into the house," she said. "It gives me pleasure. It makes me feel calm and peaceful."

She can admire the garden from the window over the kitchen sink, where already this summer she has prepared homegrown asparagus.

"I want to be able to show what can be done without using herbicides and pesticides," Hennessy said.

A system of rollers containing black, vinyl cloth allows her to tuck in her vegetable beds at night and plant in mid-May. Already last week, broccoli, bell pepper plants and garlic chives were more than a foot tall.

One corner of her raised garden beds is reserved for historic raspberry bushes given to her by Laurie Sittig. They're just beginning to hit their growth.

Sittig has relied on Pete and Jennifer Casavecchia, of Nature's Design, to design her yard, gardens, a drainage stream and a realistic recirculating stream at the entrance to the home. Even without that last touch, guests arrive via a stout wooden bridge over Priest Creek, which was continuing to carry snowmelt Friday.

The Sittigs have called the old Kemry Ranch their home for 14 years and have learned that the partially shaded garden on the west side of their two-story gabled home has above-average soil for the Yampa Valley.

"It's black. It's like coffee grounds," Laurie Sittig said.

One garden plot has allowed the family to do something almost no one in Steamboat Springs has been able to do: grow sweet corn.

Sittig opens her garden to several friends and neighbors, who share in the chores and the harvest.

Her hardy tomato vines stay outside this time of year, and her lush lettuce beds intermingle with edible flowers.

Sittig has an eye for juxtaposing rustic antiques, including rusted pieces of farm implements and children's toys found on the ranch, with brilliant flowering baskets.

She credits Carol Zamzow, The Lawn Lady, with helping her refine the look of the yard.

From the inside

The Hennessy home is remarkable for some design details, including a fireplace designed around the bison mount that hung in Mike Hennessy's childhood bedroom in Illinois.

But the real showpieces are sculptural aspen trees in the foyer of the home created by Randy Paul, of Dreamweaver Enterprises, to resemble those at The Cabin restaurant in The Steamboat Grand. Look closely and you'll see a heart carved into a tree trunk bearing the initials M&T.

Don't leave the home without first taking a peek at the powder room. It will be a surprise.

In addition to the Sittigs' inviting family home, their property includes the chance to see the inside of a historic dairy barn as well as Chester's log cabin. The barn was stabilized by well-known Steamboat restoration contractor Bill Irvine, and an open window frames a view of aspens on the mountainside.

To add to the atmosphere, the Yampa Valley Boys will perform at the Sittig residence during the Kitchen and Garden Tour.

Neal Sittig and his father-in-law, Don Valentine, harvested new logs from the property to replace some that had rotted at the base of the cabin.

It is outfitted with twin beds, where the Sittigs' sons, Jack and Cole, sometimes sleep on summer nights. There's an ancient wood cook stove that is no longer in use. And a special possession is a vintage saddle owned by Laurie Sittig's late stepmother, Rita Valentine.

If you look closely you'll see old gunny sacks and even a pair of vintage denim jeans stuffed into the cracks between logs to augment the chinking on the outside of the little cabin.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

Kitchen gardens for second-home owners

Toni Hennessy’s daughter and her boyfriend are starting a new business, Backyard Organics, intended to help second-home owners enjoy produce from their own sustainable vegetable gardens. Realizing that the Yampa Valley’s growing season is about 42 days, and it’s awkward for second-home owners to give their gardens an early start, the entrepreneurs will plant and nurture a garden for their clients that is timed to deliver spring lettuce and kitchen herbs — even edible flours — when they arrive in Steamboat for their summer visit.

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