Local icons will bring Toponas history to life during upcoming talks | SteamboatToday.com

Local icons will bring Toponas history to life during upcoming talks

These pen and ink railroad maps provided by the Denver Library show the Egeria area in the early 1900s.
Denver Library Western History & Genealogy Research/Courtesy photo

South Routt icons Larry Kier, Jerry Schalnus and Stine Forster will bring a little bit of the area’s past to life this Sunday, April 2, as the Toponas Community Club launches a series of history talks.

“We really want to draw attention to the fact that this building is very special — the community is special,” said Marissa Perry, who is helping organize the talks and helping with a more extensive Toponas Community Club research project that stretches from the Homestead Act of 1862 to the end of the lettuce era in 1960.

Mostly, she wants to preserve the history of the area while she still can.

“There was a lot that happened in this area during the homestead era between people buying or homesteading their land patents to the end of the lettuce crop era,” Perry said of upper Egeria in Routt County. “Some of the articles and some of the stories, I’m finding, will move you to tears.”

She said the chance to listen to the stories passed down through these legacy ranching families is a rare opportunity.

The first talk will take place at 1 p.m. Sunday in Toponas Hall, and it will be moderated by sixth-generation rancher Whit Gates, who is currently raising his children on the family ranch.

He will lead a discussion with legendary rancher Jerry Schalnus, whose family’s homestead is south of Yampa at Finger Rock; Forster, who now lives in McCoy but spent his younger days riding for cow operations all over the Gore Range; and Kier, who is coming from Delta but whose family still owns and operates their homestead in Toponas.

“There was so much energy, so many people and so much work being done in the upper Egeria Park area, and it was a very hard country to survive in,” Perry said. “So the fact that Whit Gates, who is a fifth- or sixth-generation rancher, is raising his children here — ti’s one family’s living legacy of settling, survival and succeeding in the American West.”

The series will continue April 16 as Verna Whaley and Linda Long showcase their families’ history in the Egeria area.

“Verna is going to talk about her family history,” Perry said. “She’s 95 years old and is a community gem.”

Long’s family history will touch on the sawmills and the area’s logging history.

“Linda is going to talk about her grandfather’s history in the sawmill lumber camps,” Perry said. “We believe there were four or five sawmills in operation in the area, and we’re very interested in documenting that history.”

As part of the Toponas Community Club research project, Perry is hoping to reach out to the descendants of homesteading families with hopes of recording their stories and finding photographs of the area’s lettuce operations and lumber camps. She said descendants can connect with the research team at Toponascommclub@gmail.com.

She said Brian Ripley, who operates TPG Ranch Properties, which is the rural arm of the Paoli Group, is sending a videographer to record the sessions. He plans to post the videos online so that people who can’t make it to the talks can access these important stories.

“A lot of the people that will be talking and speaking have such a rich history. Generationally, they themselves, frankly, might be getting up there a little in age to where we need to take advantage of getting their stories,” Ripley said. “They’re part of a generational family that has history in that area, and that part is just amazing.”

For Perry, the talks and her project are very personal. She has been kicking the idea around for 15 years and finally dove into the project headfirst.

“I’m going to be compiling my research to share in an up-and-coming book release as a fundraiser for the Toponas Community Club,” said Perry, whose family ranch was homesteaded by Winfield Scott Perry near Toponas in spring 1911. “It brings me nearly to tears to think how my grandmother would approve, and it warms my heart to be working on this with my parents, as my dad is recovering from cancer treatments … I believe this work will be one of the top three accomplishments in my life, and I’m so very excited to be involved in this preservation work.”

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