A remote, renovated piece of heaven

Smokejumpers give Glade Guard Station a face-lift

Members of the National Smokejumpers Association, from left, Doug Wamsley, Dave Fergason, and Steve Vittum, shingle the roof of the barn on Thursday at the Glade Guard Station. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Herald

Members of the National Smokejumpers Association, from left, Doug Wamsley, Dave Fergason, and Steve Vittum, shingle the roof of the barn on Thursday at the Glade Guard Station.

THE GLADE –

A three-year project that restored to mint condition a historic U.S. Forest Service outpost in this remote area ended Friday.

The isolated complex, which includes an early 20th century ranger’s house, a barn and a couple other outbuildings, is 13 miles north and slightly west of McPhee Reservoir and 18 miles from the nearest paved road.

“We have a tiny Shangri-La,” David Singer with Silverton Restoration Consulting said Friday as he watched final touches being applied. “This is idyllic.”

It’s hard to dispute the assessment. The Glade Guard Station, which was discharged of its original duty around the end of World War II, sits on a slight rise among aspens and Gambel oak. If the noise of restoration were tuned out, the only sounds would be the wind in the trees and the chirping of birds.

By next summer, the refurbished guard station could host private gatherings, said Julie Coleman, heritage team leader for the Forest Service.

Elaine Sherman, an archaeologist with the Dolores Public Lands Office, lends expertise.

Providing construction skills and muscle are members of the National Smokejumpers Association, the mission of which is saving the nation’s forest and grassland resources.

This year, nine former smokejumpers, guys who were leaping from aircraft to battle forest fires in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and three nonjumping associates worked on the restoration of the guard station.

Their ranks include attorneys, scientists, engineers and a former U-2 reconnaissance plane pilot. The oldest member on the job was 78-year-old Ron Siple. Following on his heels was Joe Lord, 75.

All are volunteers who pay their own way to project sites and regularly put in 10-hour days.

The guard station face-lift was completed in three one-week work sessions in 2008, 2009 and this year. Some of the smokejumpers have visited all three years, camping in tents or vehicles.

Rich Hildebrand, 65, a biochemist and the squad leader, is one of them.

“When I saw the buildings the first time, they were in terrible condition,” Hildebrand said. “A few more years, and the only solution would have been to burn them.”

During their visits, the smokejumpers renewed building exteriors, replaced decaying roofs with cedar shingles, improved drainage, repaired foundations and a chimney, constructed a corral and hitching post, and installed a flagpole donated by the Mancos chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Melissa Childs of Elevated Fine Foods of Silverton spends the week on-site to provide three square meals a day for the volunteers.

The first guard station was a log cabin – now long removed – that was built around 1906 for a ranger who oversaw timber sales and grazing permits.

A decade later, the current 600-square-foot ranger quarters and a barn were built for seasonal occupancy.

In the mid-1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps located a camp next to the guard station.

Corps members built a woodshed and outhouse – both of which exist today – constructed culverts, did trail and road maintenance, and improved a natural spring.

The Forest Service recently installed a solar-powered pump at the spring, Singer said.

When the ranger’s residence was moved to Dolores, the guard station remained as a Forest Service work center into the 1970s. But time, weather and vandalism took their toll.

Coleman, an archaeologist, said private donations have funded the restoration, about $60,000 a year. Interior restoration of the guard station, now out for bids, is expected to cost $90,000 to $130,000. Work is scheduled to start this summer.

When refurbished, the guard station will sleep five. Revenue from rent will pay for long-term maintenance, and the presence of visitors should deter vandalism, Coleman said.

The Dominguez Archeological Research Group coordinates fundraising, Coleman said. Among donors are the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Bacon Family Foundation, the Ballantine Family Fund, the Gates Family Foundation and the State Historical Trust. The San Juan Public Lands Center also has contributed.

The smokejumper volunteers are a double source of financial aid, Singer said. They work for nothing, and their labor is counted by donors as an in-kind contribution for matching grants.

Hildebrand doesn’t know what volunteer project his crew will tackle next.

“We’re flexible,” Hildebrand said. “We’ll wait and see.”

daler@durango herald.com

The exterior of the Glade Guard Station is completed with work inside yet to be done. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Herald

The exterior of the Glade Guard Station is completed with work inside yet to be done.

Julie Coleman, heritage team leader for the Forest Service, shingles the roof of the outhouse Thursday at the Glade Guard Station. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Herald

Julie Coleman, heritage team leader for the Forest Service, shingles the roof of the outhouse Thursday at the Glade Guard Station.

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