Updated: Sep 17
Even after the wildfire of 2010 left much of the Ranch in ashes, it was possible to pay staff to work the following summer thanks to insurance money, a disaster loan, and donations. However, like this pandemic summer of 2020, many young people volunteered to live and work in the mountains for the summer for a few seasons soon after Coach Walker died in the early 1970s. As now, most of those volunteers found their reward in spending active, outdoor, purposeful time working and playing in a community of peers.
Many were young adults who had grown up in Camp as campers and CITs, as are 7 of our current 18 volunteer staff members. Some were dedicated long-time staff members, as 6 are now. Other people new to the Ranch were attracted to adventure and something meaningful, hoping that magic might happen. And so often it did, …and still does. Our 5 new staff members in 2020 all say that there’s no place else they’d rather be this summer.
Back in the early 1970s, there was a migration of college students each spring from eastern and mid-western states who cast their fate to the wind and headed west for the summer. In early May, we at the Ranch would dangle our carrot with ads in local papers saying, “Live and work in the mountains this summer in exchange for room and board. Play outdoors with children and friends. Summer camp needs volunteer staff.” After a personal interview and reference checks, young people signed on, often for what turned out to be the time of their lives.
During the summer of 1976, our volunteer staff had to deal with a lot more than the usual antics of children. During the previous winter a huge wind roaring like a freight train ripped the roof off the Lodge. After day after day of salvaging and scrapping the remains down to only the first floor dining room and kitchen, summer arrived with a flat-topped Lodge, framed walls, but no roof.
As it turned out, that summer was one of the wettest summers ever, no usual drought, no water-shortage, just deluge after deluge of rain. It was when torrents of rain dropped a foot of water in four hours at the headwaters of the Big Thompson River, causing the most disastrous flood ever in Colorado to whoosh through Estes Park and the valley below.
Here at the Ranch that same night, as in so many other rainy times that summer, the volunteer staff members who weren’t needed for overnight cabin supervision of the children all raced to the open-topped Lodge to try to keep the rain from coming into the main level. We were equipped with 4’ wide push-broom type squeegies, multitudes of towels, and a wringer washer to get the water out of the towels so they could be used over and over again. That night and other times this method was successful at keeping the main area dry.
On the last day of Camp that summer, as the buses were loading, the skies let loose once again in a horrendous downpour. Everyone on staff was out front with the campers for the last goodbye of the summer, waving and sending air hugs and kisses. While we were getting soaked by the rain, all of us staff looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and together made the easy decision to stay with the children. Yes, the children always come first!
Once the buses were safely rolling out the gate, we all hi-tailed it to the Lodge, ran inside to see if it was leaking, and sure enough, for the first time – due to our less-than immediate response to the sound and feel of rain, water was dripping in all over. We found sweet, tiny Norma Walker alone in the huge dripping room with a mop. She looked up and although overwhelmed, she said with a smile, “I’m doing the best I can!”
Needless to say, the staff team ran to the top to put to work their squeegees, towels and old wring washer to successfully dry up the deluge of water. Luckily there was no lasting water damage. With Camp time over, those volunteers who could stay went on to help Mike frame walls and get a roof on before the next season of Camp.
We're so grateful for all our Colorado Mountain Ranch staff members over the years. We couldn't do it without you!