Naturalists, artists assured access to Harrison Creek ranch |

Naturalists, artists assured access to Harrison Creek ranch

The second half of Helen and Henry Rehder’s legacy in the community was secured this month, as the Yampa Valley Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy formally accepted the gift of the couple’s historic 250-acre sheep ranch in Pleasant Valley.

The secluded property on Harrison Creek will remain private, but Land Trust Executive Director Susan Dorsey said that in keeping with Helen Rehder’s will, the ranch will host a variety of events and visits beginning with a gathering of landscape painters in August and continuing to include naturalists studying trout, elk, deer and the ecosystem at the base of Mount Baldy.

The gift of the land was accompanied by the gift of a fund to help underwrite the cost of maintaining the property.

“The Land Trust is honored by this incredible gift of the Rehder Ranch as a nature preserve and is committed to fulfilling Helen’s wishes,” Dorsey said. She added that work already is scheduled to conserve the buildings, which are tucked out of sight on the east side of Lake Catamount.

The Rehder’s home and turn-of-the-20th-century agricultural buildings, including a barn, are scheduled for historic assessment this summer by Historic Routt County and the University of Colorado – Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning.

Dorsey agreed the acceptance of the Rehder gift will take the Land Trust in new directions, giving it a greater public presence. She envisions forming new partnerships with research, educational and cultural organizations including Yampatika, state universities, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program.

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The overarching theme will be to emphasize the ranch’s inherent qualities as a nature preserve.

“What better way to honor Helen,” Dorsey said. “It reflects her deep love of the land, her love of art and of history and wildlife. This range of partners has the opportunity to touch so many aspects of this community, and the opportunities are exciting.”

Completing the gift

The First National Bank Building in downtown Steamboat Springs represents the first portion of the Rehders’ legacy. Now home to the Steamboat Art Museum, it was gifted to the city of Steamboat Springs after Helen died in 2004. Henry died on his 98th birthday in 1998. The Rehders originally purchased the red brick building in 1937.

Bringing the second major gift in Helen’s will to fruition required the collaboration of the two conservation organizations, which have partnered in the past on conserving the Carpenter Ranch and Hereford Haven ranch east of Hayden.

In the case of the Rehder Ranch, the typical role of the two conservation organizations will be reversed. Instead of the conservancy owning the property, it will hold a conservation easement, while the Land Trust will hold a deed on the property and take responsibility for its management.

Geoff Blakeslee, Yampa River project director for The Nature Conservancy, said he’s happy to expand his organization’s relationship with the Land Trust.

“This is a great model for how we can continue to work together,” Blakeslee said.

As holder of the easement, the role of the conservancy will be to ensure its terms are upheld, he said.

Long local history

Henry Rehder’s family emigrated from Germany first to Central City and then to the Yampa Valley in 1902, when he was 2 years old. Helen originally was from Red Cloud, Neb., and moved to Steamboat in the late 1940s, where she met and married Henry. It was the second marriage for both of them.

Nobody knew the couple better in their later years than Mary Echtermeyer, who with her husband, Andy, moved to the ranch in 1997. The couple moved into an apartment upstairs in the barn, and Mary took care of Henry after he suffered a stroke.

Helen regaled Echtermeyer with endless stories, and she learned about the early days on the ranch, when they grazed sheep all the way to the top of Baldy in the early summer.

Henry had raised the money to buy the property by trapping coyotes, foxes and pine martens and selling their pelts. He also worked on a shrimp boat off the gulf coast of Texas.

Helen was a graduate of a secretarial school, Echtermeyer said, and was a skilled bookkeeper who was savvy with the family finances.

Helen painted and kept detailed diaries about life on the ranch. The couple seemed to enjoy their solitude.

“They kept to themselves up there,” Echtermeyer said. As they grew older and coping with the deep winter snows became too much for them, the Rehders sold their flock in the fall and moved into their apartment above the bank building for the winter.

Still later, they spent winters on property in Cambria, Calif.

Echtermeyer, about to begin her 13th summer on the ranch, said the new arrangement with The Nature Conservancy and the Yampa Valley Land Trust would have pleased the Rehders.

“They wanted this place to never be developed and left open for biologists,” she said.

Get involved

People interested in helping the Yampa Valley Land Trust with volunteer projects at the Rehder Ranch Nature Preserve may call Susan Dorsey at the Land Trust at 879-7240 or may e-mail volunteer@yvlt.or