Art Hutchinson, on a rare history and the weight of legacy, changing times and preserving neutral ground
(Publication Date: 9.20.22)
Overview: Art Hutchinson joins Adam Williams, host of the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast, to talk about a rare history and perspective in Chaffee County, Colorado.
The Hutchinson Homestead & Ranch is located along highway 50 between Salida and Poncha Springs, Colorado. The ranch has been a keystone in the community since before there even was a community, having been founded in the 1860s, soon after the Civil War. That’s before Colorado was a state, before nearby Salida was a town, before … well, nearly everything that’s come to be established in Chaffee County.
Art and Adam talk about that family history, about the weight of legacy, and about change and conservation. Art not only knows about that as part of the seven generations of Hutchinsons to have lived in the area, but he also served more than three decades in the National Park Service, including as superintendent of the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Now, in retirement, Art brings that experience – and a reasoned voice – back to Chaffee County.
SHOW NOTES, LINKS, CREDITS & TRANSCRIPT
The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.
Along with being distributed on popular podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via khen.org.
We Are Chaffee
Looking Upstream Host & Photographer: Adam Williams
Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray
Producer & We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin
We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby
Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom
Director of Chaffee Housing Authority: Becky Gray
Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service. Although it is largely accurate, minor errors inevitably exist.
[Intro music, guitar instrumental]
Adam Williams (00:03): Welcome to We Are Chaffee Looking Upstream, a human forward conversational podcast based in Chaffee County, Colorado. I'm your host, Adam Williams. Today's guest is Art Hutchinson.
Art has a special perspective, one that we could have explored for hours. We didn't. Not this time anyway. But with his story and insights, he adds a significant piece to the picture of life, history, and community in Chaffee County.
And that's what we're doing here overall with this Looking Upstream podcast. We're connecting through personal stories and perspectives to engage with our community on a more intimate and human level.
(00:37): The idea is that the more we do this, the more we build our community up. We unite it and strengthen it through knowledge and compassion and understanding. Underlying these stories are what are known as upstream health factors, things related to housing and living conditions, social inequities, and many related policies and systems. It's about how those upstream factors lead to downstream consequences on social behaviors and health, and ultimately the connectedness and wellbeing of all of us as a community.
(01:09): So again, today's guest is Art Hutchinson, as in the Hutchinson Homestead and Ranch that's located along Highway 50 between Salida and Poncha Springs, Colorado. That ranch has been a keystone in this community since before there even was a community.
The Hutchinsons have been here since the 1860s, not long after the Civil War. That's before Colorado was a state, before Salida was a town, before, well, nearly everything that's come to be established here. Art and I talk about that family history and about the weight of legacy. We talk about change and conservation.
(01:42): He not only knows about that as part of the seven generations of Hutchinsons to have lived here, but Art also served more than three decades in the National Park Service, including as superintendent of the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park. Now in retirement, Art brings that experience back to Chaffee County at a time, especially could use a seasoned and reasoned voice. So here is that voice. Here is my conversation with Art Hutchinson.
(02:17): Welcome to Looking Upstream, Art. We've got a whole lot to talk about today and I've been really excited to do it.
Art Hutchinson (02:22): Well, it's good to be here and it's one of those beautiful Bluebird days out here in Salida, Colorado.
Adam Williams (02:28): It's a great place to be, ain't it?
Art Hutchinson (02:29): Yeah.
Adam Williams (02:30): So I want to start with your family history because it is a rare and special history in general. Certainly it is in Chaffee County. And just to set a slight bit of the stage here, you are fifth generation in the Hutchinson family.
That makes your grandkids the seventh generation. And what we're talking about here dates all the way back to the Civil War. That's before Salida was a town, before Colorado was a state. So that foundation, what was here at the time and what led your family to come here?
Art Hutchinson (02:59): Well, there was two sides of the family, the Hutchinson side and the McPherson side. The Hutchinson came out after the Civil War. He got wounded at the Battle of Vicksburg. The McPhersons came out of Wisconsin, covered wagon across the planes coming to look for gold.
So basically, both of them were merging here thinking that they're going to find their riches like a lot of people did during the gold rush periods. There were no roads here. The road in from Canyon City was up over Guffey area. Guffey didn't exist and Leadville, which didn't exist. It was Oro City. And then the McPhersons got the same way across there.
(03:37): So that was kind of the original road. The Royal Gorge Canyon was too rough to try. Even Zebulon pike didn't make it through the gorge. He had to go around another way. So this was pretty remote. The train didn't get here for another 10 or 15 years, 1881. So they were truly pioneers. Started off in the Leadville area and froze out, which as we know, Leadville's chili. Salida is a little more of the banana belt. The term is used a lot. We came down here and the McPhersons did a trading post originally up by the beginning of Browns Canyon and then moved to Poncha Springs.
(04:14): Joe Hutchinson decided to get out of the mining business. He was a superintendent of a mining company at Granite and then came down and they decided that raising cattle might be a way of making a living here because it was open range. So he had the largest cattle empire in the mountains of Colorado at the time.
Adam Williams (04:34): Oh, wow.
Art Hutchinson (04:34): He ran around 1,300 head of animals. They trailed them all the way down to east of Denver where the Kansas Pacific Railroad was coming in and they would then get put on and taken to slaughter in Cincinnati, Ohio. Some of them went to the mining camps too. So that's really the impetus for it here.
The Homestead, which is now a national registered property, it's very significant. It's been restored. It's out here on Highway 50. That was really the first frame house south of Denver. Georgetown might have had one which frame being sawn board. Before, everything was log cabin.
(05:13): And Annabelle McPherson Hutchinson, she says, "I'm not going to live in a log cabin. I want a wood stove to cook on." And so they built this nice house out there, a two-story gothic. It's immortalized public radio, Colorado Public Radio, what they call, [inaudible 00:05:30] experience.
Did a one hour special on it a couple years ago. I think it's season seven. And so I would like people to go to that to learn more about the family history and then the rest as they say is the rest of the story. And now I'm kind of carrying the mantle of the family along with my daughter, and my granddaughter, and we'll see how this goes.
Adam Williams (05:53): Absolutely. There is a documentary on Rocky Mountain PBS, which I have watched and I want viewers or listeners here to also be able to view that. There is so much history there. That is where I first was introduced to an awful lot of it myself. And in that documentary, you are included. Of course, you're a voice there, and I would say a historian.
And that's something that stood out to me because I got to wondering about how does the family history that is now nearly 160 years long in this location, how does that history get passed down? Because that's quite a legacy and I'm wondering if that was a personal interest of yours, if it's something that has passed generation to generation. Everyone has taught it because at some point it feels like a responsibility. How did that go?
Art Hutchinson (06:40): Well, it really started with my great Uncle Art, who was truly kind of a renaissance man. He had a telescope that could see the rings of Saturn. He subscribed to National Geographic and he was just a guy who not only loved the history but also the big world around him. I think he'd have been a scientist, a university if he'd have had the opportunity. So he kept track of that. He was a diary keeper and then my dad did. So between the two of them, they chronicled a lot of period from about 18.
(07:13): Uncle Art was probably maybe 10 or 15 when he started diary-ing and that would've been about 1885. And then my dad continued. Uncle Art died about 1949 and so his diaries go all through that. We actually have some of Annabelle Hutchinson's diaries from going across the Great Plains or real snippets. But I think it was always ingrained in us that we were here and seeing a whole new landscape. Colorado, didn't exist.
Adam Williams (07:45): Right.
Art Hutchinson (07:45): Well, the land did, of course, and the rivers did, and the mountains did. But this was a brand new place. The Ute Indians had been here a long time along with Kiowa and Comanches and others that migrated through. So I mean, I'm not trying to say we were the first, but we were the first that came in to build these more permanent structures. And of course as we look today across our landscape, we're still building structures on this landscape and changing it as we did a long time ago. Just in a different scale.
Adam Williams (08:15): Do you feel like that was a personal interest then that you took where your father was and where Uncle Art was? Is that something that was commonplace throughout the other siblings because you're not of course the only one in the line at this point? There have been others.
Art Hutchinson (08:32): I think probably I got more of it. I was the eldest child and I was able to drive with my father. He was a veterinarian and he drove all over from Leadville down to Moffitt and the sand dunes area, and over almost to Gunnison. He was the vet for the area. So he wanted somebody to keep him awake basically. And then when I could drive, I drove. But everywhere we went it was... Well, that was the Lynn Hardy place and that's where the lady who was the horse thief. They found out she was a woman that had stolen horses and they shot her off the horse and took her hat off and long hair flow and he goes, "That's where she died." So it was very enlightening and I wish I could remember probably half the stories because every generation that goes, some of the stories evaporate.
Adam Williams (09:24): Sure.
Art Hutchinson (09:25): I always say that one thing that Garrison Keeler taught was the power of story. Lake Wobegon was a fictional place, but I bet a lot of people knew more about Lake Wobegon than they did their own history just because of his ability to carry a story. And that's one my dad had. He was a storyteller. He was captivating. People that took care of him in his older age says, "Geez, he was always telling the stories about the past."
Art Hutchinson (09:47): So he was really, I think the catalyst that kept this history going. And also his desire to keep the ranch intact was part of that because he knew once... He saw what was going on in other places. He had friends in the veterinary business and crumbling in another steamboat and watched these lands get gobbled up. And he says, "I would like to keep this as open as possible." So as you probably drive between Salida and Poncha Springs, the signs are out there. We still put up hay and we still run cattle. Not the same as we did a hundred years ago, but pretty close.
Adam Williams (10:25): I've been there with my family on multiple occasions and my sons have been there for camps, summer camps for a week long or whatever the experience was that they were there for. So I certainly can say that our family appreciates the openness of that experience and that it does continue in the capacity that it does, even if it has changed a bit, which of course a lot has changed and we're going to get to some of that change in a bit in this conversation.
But I want to ask you about this sense of responsibility and legacy you are carrying the mantle of this. Again, we're nearly 160 years in. We're seven generations in. When you get to your grandkids, do you feel a particular weight being the eldest of your generation, the one who is here talking about this now and in that documentary and is able to tell these stories?
Art Hutchinson (11:13): Oh, I do. I mean there's no question that you're kind of steeped in it as a child and then you watch things change and then when your parents pass away you say, "Well, I'm kind of the top of the heap right now. And what do I do to protect it?"
I was really the one that pushed and my dad went along with it, the Conservation Easements on the ranch so that we had that ability to keep it in open space and in agriculture and as much as we could. We realized that it's not cheap to do that. We don't own oil wells or anything. This valley is kind of a hard place to make. It's always been a hard place thing to make a living for people here, the railroads. And we'll talk about that more.
(12:01): Ranching is a seasonal sport so to speak because we only have green grass so many months of the year and the rest of the time you have to feed the animals. In the old days, of course, we were horse drawn valley. Everything, even the stuff downtown, the coal was delivered probably off the train by horses. And we put up hay with horses and horse drawn equipment. I think we got our first John Deere tractor used about 1954 when I was a little kid. And that was a big deal.
(12:31): Now tractors of course are bigger and some of the problems of course is they're more complicated than they used to be. A horse drawn machine wasn't too bad. But a modern tractor, even a 10-year, 20-year-old tractor takes a lot of equipment and tools and equipment or whatever. It just,
Adam Williams (12:50): There's a lot more technology.
Art Hutchinson (12:51): There's more technology out there. We've lost our John Deere dealership here. You have to find people in the valley to do it. We have, fortunately, a massive Ferguson dealership here, but things are a lot different than they were and I've seen it in my lifetime change from Highway 50 being a two-lane road to one you can land a 747 on now. You see the tower on top of Tenderfoot. We didn't even have TV here and they finally got a translator up on Mount Princeton. Well, Danny Johnson, he would send out the letter every year. Put in your $20 or we can't keep TV in this valley.
(13:29): When I was little, I listened to the radio because we didn't have TV. I remember KOA Radio came in here and you'd sit in front of it and listen to [inaudible 00:13:39] general store. It was a different place in those days, quieter, I guess.
Adam Williams (13:44): What years are we talking about for that period when you were a child and it was just radio?
Art Hutchinson (13:50): I was born in 1951. So it'd be about probably '53, '54. I'm not sure when we actually found they got black and white TV, but it was probably around '56 about the time my brother was born.
Adam Williams (14:04): Okay. I want to back up for a second because I have a question about these Conservation Easements. Would you mind explaining to me what is involved in that? What does that really mean?
Art Hutchinson (14:15): Well, the Conservation Easement is a legal instrument to protect lands from development, if you wish. You can sell some development rights or some other ways of funding it so that the family can actually still, who ever has to maintain that. Depending on who carries that easement like we have Colorado Cattleman's Land Trust for most of ours and then also central Colorado Conservancy for the lands that are not as meadow and hay productive. So those two groups will kind of inspect it and make sure you're not putting in something you shouldn't or whatever.
(14:54): There's legal ramifications for it. And also then it limits the value of the land as well because you can't subdivide. And as we see around here, there's a lot of subdivisions going in and you take a 35 acre and turn it into four nine acres or whatever and then pretty soon you've chopped up the landscape.
We really wanted our landscape to be open where you can do things on it and we're trying to be creative about allowing others to be there. The folks we turned over the homestead that your children went to and for educational programs that are focused on agriculture. That way people can enjoy it along with us and yet we still have control over the water and the lands itself and the expense of running it.
Adam Williams (15:45): Okay. Well, I want to ask about sustaining the ranch and this history because it occurred to me somewhere along in my preparations for this conversation that it might be naive on my part to think that when you have a rare situation such as this family that so many generations is in the same place, I think my assumption would've been, well, then everyone who is born into this family, they're sort of taught this is the family business so to speak. Everyone stays here. Life revolves around this.
(16:19): But in fact with your family, of course people have come and gone. They've built lives elsewhere. And you were one of those people as well. You had a career after going to college and I think getting a master's degree in archeology. Is that correct?
Art Hutchinson (16:35): And natural resources, yes.
Adam Williams (16:37): And natural resources. Okay. And then you had a long career that I think was 30 plus years, nearly 35 with the National Park Service. Your daughter now, you mentioned her, Abby. She's now the one who is here because throughout all this time while others have gone, they've built lives, they've come and gone, there's always been someone though in the family who has held the reins and kept this going.
(17:02): So I guess the question I'm getting to is how are those decisions made? How have the Hutchinsons managed throughout all this time to keep the ranch and legacy going?
Art Hutchinson (17:13): Well, it was probably because in earlier there were more children. There were four Hutchinson boys and then my dad's father was a son of one of those. So there was labor in a family that helped maintain it. When my dad was getting out of high school here in Salida, his Uncle Art says, "Wendell, you need to go get an education because this ranch doesn't make much money. We're kind of barely hanging on."
(17:41): It persuaded my dad to go onto what he called Colorado Aggies or CSU now and get a degree. He actually originally said to his brother, "You take the ranch. I'm going to go be a veterinarian in Gunnison." And he did for a couple of years when he got married. His brother came over after a couple of years, that was Jake and said, "Wendell, I can't do it. It's not in me." So my dad sold a little bit of his practice over there and came over here and decided that it was him who was going to do it.
(18:12): My dad gave me the same advice. When I got out of high school and I came back to help on the ranch and I'd gotten married and he said, "I think you should get some more education because ranch isn't going to make it." He says, "I'm here making enough money to pay the cow bills and stuff like that." But he said, "Do that." So I did go back to school and unfortunately found a great job with the National Park Service.
I was able to work all around the country and even in the Department of the Interior building. So it broadened my perspective, which I think is good because you can't always stay in one little spot on earth and say, "Well, this is all there is. There is a big world out there." I think it has helped give me a perspective after I retire of what maybe we need to do here to keep things going another couple of generations.
Adam Williams (19:03): I'm going to want to get to that part for sure, but I want to ask when your dad's brother said, "I can't keep doing this," and he asked for your brother to step in. What was it that was the challenge that he just really didn't want to have to keep going on his own with?
Art Hutchinson (19:18): Jake? Jake I think just thought that it was too much work and he had a couple of kids. And they estranged a little bit. I think he just saw that it was too much work here. His younger brother did the same thing. In fact, Joe, lives down in Santa Fe now is the last of that group. When I just first got married he says, "Art, get out of here. This place is a trap. There's no money in it. Salida is faltering. It was about the time the Climax mine went and the railroad was pulling out. Things didn't look really very good at that time. And he says, "Go off and do other things."
(20:01): So I guess I listened to both of them and yet sometimes home is where home is and I always thought I would come back here and have retirement, and I won't say have an easy life, but it's pretty special to have this much heritage behind you and then the responsibility that goes with it. You mentioned that earlier. It can be a burden. It keeps you awake at night when you're trying to figure out a few things and watching the Salida area change around you is a challenge.
Adam Williams (20:36): I think listening to you, I feel a little bit of a weight of the burden, not necessarily just for you but in terms of there are always being at least one person from the family throughout any of the generations who is here. But it wasn't something that everyone felt they were cut out for, maybe interested in. So it does feel like it's extra amazing really that the Hutchinsons were able to keep it going. And that's why it also is such a rare family circumstance because land does tend to get broken up, sold off. The kids, they grow up and they move on to the city or to whatever other endeavors in life. So to have one be here for so many generations seems exceedingly rare and difficult to do.
Art Hutchinson (21:29): Yeah, the statistics are most farms only make it four generations. So we've already beat the statistics.
Adam Williams (21:36): At most?
Art Hutchinson (21:37): At most. I guess that's the big end of the end, but obviously there's a few exceptions to that.
Adam Williams (21:42): Sure.
Art Hutchinson (21:43): And there are a few ranches in Colorado like ours that are centennial ranches and not too many go back to the 1870s, but they're rare. Steamboat Valley has got a couple. The eastern plains has a few. There's a couple around here that almost that age. So we're in that upper statistic that says how much more can you take and watch change happen.
Adam Williams (22:08): For lack of a better word at the moment, I don't know if this is a word you would use, but something like fate or maybe destiny is it seems like that's ultimately what led you to growing up here because your grandfather mills. He would run the ranch in the early 20th century.
Then your dad, Wendell. Again, we already talked about how he actually had gone and become a veterinarian. He was living elsewhere and was called back. Some of those pivotal moments, those decisions your dad choosing to say, yes, okay, I'll take the reins. I'll be the one. That led to you being here. I just wonder if you are a reflective type of person who maybe has considered how that has influenced your life, just the way that line led to you and not someone else.
Art Hutchinson (22:57): Oh, I think it affected me a lot more maybe than I wanted to admit at the time if it was destiny or legacy. But somebody had to do it and my dad instilled in me that I think love of a place, love of history, love of what came before you that I accepted that and I'm living it every day really.
Adam Williams (23:24): Okay.
Art Hutchinson (23:25): I will see how far I can take it. I've talked to my daughter Abby about what does she feel about this place and number one, she says, "I love Salida. I love the small town feel of it." I would like my daughter to have the same opportunity I have. Abby went to Colorado State University and got a degree in animal science. She didn't want to be a veterinarian, she said, but she worked on a ranch up in Wyoming for a while and my dad says, "Well, why didn't you come back here? I can pay you to do what you're doing up there and you can help me out."
(23:56): So he lured her in to be the next one to replace because he wasn't sure if I'd come back. I'm sure at that time I had a good career and he wanted her to... And he gave her a few calves and let him grow up. She's accepted this and she's smart as a tack and that's rewarding for me to know that if the media hits me on the head tomorrow that she's going to be around to stay as long as she can too.
Adam Williams (24:30): Do you have any particular memories? If we step back, maybe it's you and your father, you and your grandfather or you and your daughter?
Art Hutchinson (24:40): Oh, probably the biggest memory is that this is what my dad and my grandmother, and mom... We have an old cow camp, we call it up, on top of Marshall Pass that's on Forest Service land. And we still have a forest permit up there for a number of cows. And that's where my dad, I think, had one of his favorite places too. He'd go up there and they would ride, look for the cows, put salt out in the right places. In those days, the cows went up on their own and they came back because Poncha Pass wasn't raceway anymore, or what it is now.
(25:15): But to go up there and camp with him, I had two beds in the cabin. It had a wood stove and right at the top of the pass right next to the railroad track up there. Forest would like that. But that's where we'd go and that's probably one of my most favorite memories, going to the spring to get water and then boiling it on the stove, and cooking, and thinking about the past. And then my dad would take us around and show us where his father used to catch the Brook trout out of the beaver ponds up there where the old Forest Service cabin was.
(25:49): I remember one time walking through the old snow shed up there after they were abandoning the track and walking through with my grandmother holding her hand and I said, "Well, where's the train? I don't want to be in here but the train." And she said, "Well see, there's no tracks anymore. They're tearing this down." At least I have that memory of what that thing looked like as a little kid. So that's probably up on top of Marshall Pass would be one of my favorite memories of just a little kid growing up in an idyllic world.
Adam Williams (26:17): It's a special experience, I'm sure. And you're talking about access and experience in places that so few people around here would have.
Art Hutchinson (26:29): Yeah, I'm lucky. There's not too many of us.
Adam Williams (26:37): Sorry, start with I'm lucky.
Art Hutchinson (26:39): I'm lucky to have grown up in that era and seeing what it was like and the people that are no longer with us. Everybody from boys market folks to the train depot when it was torn down. I was just having lunch the other day over at... They call it the High Side now, but it was Joan Mac Feed Store.
That's where I used to get the feed for my 4H calves. We'd pull up with a pickup and throw up some bags in the back. I remember those, that big tall thing and they'd bring feed down out of there. Who'd guess it was a bike shop and a burger joint and a good place. But every time I go in there, I think of that.
Adam Williams (27:24): I tend to be, I think a fairly sentimental person, reflective. Even in my short time, certainly compared to yours and your family living in Chaffee County, I see memories where I've done something with my kids and I think of those things. So I can only imagine if you're at all like me in that sense of that sentimentality, I would think you could hardly go anywhere in this area without having just a flood of those kinds of memories coming to mind.
Art Hutchinson (27:58): Oh, it's almost everywhere. I still call certain places by its old name like the spa was... Then it became County Bounty and now it's a Mexican restaurant. Or Stuart Mortuary became Amicas and now another Mexican place. By the way, my mom would never go eat in there. She says, "I saw too many of my friends laying flat to go have a pizza in there." So I started calling it tombstone pizza. But almost everywhere you go, Pete Barron's old place where he loaded coal for my grandmother and the bottling. It's...
Adam Williams (28:36): Everywhere.
Art Hutchinson (28:38): Steam-powered train was still running into Monarch when I was little. I had a movie of my brother and sister waving at the ranch and the locomotive going up puffing smoke just like the Durango-Silverton.
Adam Williams (28:49): Wow. I think we got to talk about change now. It's kind of crept in here, here and there. And just the idea of thinking of, again, nearly 160 years from the time that Joe Hutchinson founded the ranch and homestead to where we are now. You mentioned Highway 50 for one example, but there's also when free range was the way that the early generations were able to feed their cattle. Since then, I mean, many decades ago, even now grazing laws have come in, fences have come in.
(29:26): Of course, Highway 50 divided your ranch. It runs right by where that homestead is. Those are pretty significant changes. Do you have a sense for how that impacted? And did it make things even more difficult to ranch cattle up here in the high country?
Art Hutchinson (29:45): For a long time, I don't believe so. The 1890s some claim were the end of the frontier. That's about the time my great-grandfather was born. They talk about being able to move the cows. Even, they almost knew where to go. Like I said earlier, at that time there were not a lot of private in holdings or homesteads that had been gobbled up so to speak. So the cows could graze all the way up Poncha Pass and not have houses, et cetera.
(30:15): So it's really only been since probably the 1970s that Salida gradually is first gradual and then now much faster changed. The demise of old Climax is still up there with the black cloud mine. And Monarch Quarry is still operating, but the terrain no longer goes up there. So all of that has really, I think impacted things. And then people were buying off. As farmers, didn't make it. They sold their place to somebody and Poncha Springs grew and Salida grew.
(30:53): Salida has always been a little bit of a place reluctant to change. Western State College wanted to come here, but the town fathers at the time said we don't want that college riff-raff here. That's least the rumors that I think are pretty true. There was a couple other things that were going to come in and they wanted Salida to stay. If you look at the footprint of Salida, it's pretty small. So a lot of the development had to occur outside. So a lot of this acreage that we used to graze on or at least mostly lease from people is gone into houses now.
(31:33): I don't want to make it sound like the change is bad because change happens. Is there a limit to acceptable change here? How many people can this small valley hold with the internet with other things that may be unlimited? But we've watched, I think that our neighbors from Carbondale to Durango to the places change pretty fast. If you read the papers a little bit lately, it's pull and tug. Where it goes from here, I don't know. We're fairly fortunate that we have enough land out there to take care of a certain amount of cows and we have good water rights.
(32:17): We have a lot of good things that are going on. My daughter makes a fairly good living at weddings. Now, are ranch weddings going to be here in 20 years? I don't know. But if you look in the history of things, the railroad didn't last very long here. They built in 1880 and by the 1930s it was starting to dwindle. By the 1950s, most of the tracks except the main line have been torn up. That's not a very big window in the history of humans. So you kind of go, "How are we doing on that?"
(32:49): I'm not a crystal ball guy, but I just see a lot of things happening. Everything from how many wells can you drill in a valley like this? How big a sewer system do you need to take care of all these folks? The influx of vacationers is, it's good for the economy, the river rafting, I've made a living partially as a kid rafting. All of those things have impacted Salida and it's also to a certain extent impacted us here on the ranch. Like I said, we don't no longer have a John Deere dealership and we have... The other day I counted 54 cars before I could drive across Highway 50.
Adam Williams (33:34): Wow, okay.
Art Hutchinson (33:36): You just sit there and you go, "Wow, when are they going to put the stoplight out here?" When Salida got its first stoplight down on that street, it was like, "Why do we need a stoplight?" Now you got little impulses of cars coming out of Walmart and out in Holman Avenue and it changes. There's no question. I think if you talk to anybody that's been here very long, even the newcomers go, boy, it's really changed.
Adam Williams (34:00): Talking about Highway 50, it brings to mind a particular story that was in that documentary by Rocky Mountain PBS and I think it was your grandfather Mills who when the road was still dirt and traffic had relatively speaking because cars had developed at that point and they would kick up enough dust that he would go out there and wet it, and turn it to mud, which then would upset the drivers of the cars were getting caught in the mud.
Art Hutchinson (34:27): Our irrigation ditches, he just turned it down there cause he gets so tired of dust. And he said it slows him down too.
Adam Williams (34:34): Right. But here we are now with like you said, you could land a good size plane as many lanes as have been paved out there. So certainly a lot of change. We could talk about that endlessly, the changes that have occurred. Not just even in your time and what you're aware of with the ranch, but of course over that period of time. On my way into this studio today, I happen to see a guy driving a nicely restored sedan from the '40s and he was talking on a smartphone. And it made me laugh out loud to myself because of just seeing that change and what your ranch and family have seen over time is even greater. Change is inevitable.
Art Hutchinson (35:15): Change is inevitable. And I think it's all in planning and how we deal with it as a civilization or is a local culture. Salida was a lucky little town. I don't how we're doing here on time, but we were pretty isolated in those days. I mentioned the TV finally came in and they used to... Didn't plow monarch very often.
The ski area was put in up in the '40s. A lot of times I guess you couldn't go past there because I just didn't have the manpower or the horsepower to plow Highway 50. High School was quaint times. Jimmy McCormick local here that he had four daughters and same age as my sister. And he said, "Art, you and my kids grew up in the most idyllic time of Salida that could ever been.
(36:01): We had enough money that we could provide for folks. We had a decent school system and yet we were isolated from the outside world. And to go to Denver was an event. It wasn't just like, "Oh, I guess, I'll drive up and back today." I don't want to call it Andy of Mayberry, but we knew the sheriff. I remember having a [inaudible 00:36:26] birthday party in the jail cell down under the courthouse. Nobody was there. The sheriff was there. Nobody was in prison then or in the jail. How many kids get to do that in the jailhouse today? So those are all little nostalgic events of the time.
Adam Williams (36:45): Uncle Art kept a diary. Have you ever done anything like that where you're keeping any record of these kinds of stories or have you considered writing some of the history or even just a memoir that speaks to some of these things?
Art Hutchinson (36:59): Well, I did the modern thing and I got a video camera when I was little. They're not little but probably in high school and then finding a better one that you could hold up like this.
Adam Williams (37:09): Put it on your shoulder?
Art Hutchinson (37:10): I went to my dad and we did those and they interviewed and walked around the ranch.
Adam Williams (37:14): Okay.
Art Hutchinson (37:15): But I've never been a diary person, believe it or not. I don't know why. Maybe I couldn't keep up with him.
Adam Williams (37:22): So maybe audio and video are a great way to go. You can certainly get a lot more words in a shorter period of time than trying to hand write it or type it out. I want to step back to this career with the National Park Service. So you had studied archeology and you said natural... What was it you-
Art Hutchinson (37:42): Resource management.
Adam Williams (37:43): Okay. That led to a lengthy career with the National Park Service. And you reached high levels for leadership, correct?
Art Hutchinson (37:53): Yeah. I wasn't ever a director or whatever, but I was the liaison to the secretary of interior in DC and had an office right down the hall from secretary's office. So I learned a lot about how they make sausage in Washington, the old joke. And yet the number of challenges that came on across your desk daily was huge. And then I was fortunate.
The best part was not being in DC but being out in the parks. I started in Mesa Verde National Park and my daughters got to walk all over that place when we were doing stuff. And then Great Sand Dunes is probably one of my favorite places too. I was there for five years.
Art Hutchinson (38:34): It's one of the most beautiful landscapes I think in the world. It's underappreciated in some ways because it doesn't look so big when you're driving down [inaudible 00:38:45]. But when you're over there, those giant 600-foot miles of sand and the mountains behind them is...
And one nice thing about the Park Service is very few people go to a national park to have a bad time. You're not auditing their taxes or anything, you're just saying welcome to this place that America has chosen to preserve. And then you as the park ranger, the park manager get to try to keep it that way.
Adam Williams (39:14): Yeah, I think from an outsider perspective, the idea of these locations, the landscapes, it sure seems like, "Wow, what an amazing place to work." The fact that you also worked in DC though, that feels like quite a contrast to me. I'm curious about the experience that you had there. What time period are we talking about?
Art Hutchinson (39:37): 2000 period.
Adam Williams (39:39): Okay. It seems to me you've got to have a lot more hurdles maybe to deal with the politics and everything that's there? Did you struggle with that at all? Was that something that made you really wish you could get back out west in the landscape?
Art Hutchinson (39:53): Oh yeah, no question. One of the things drove me the craziest was the sirens back there. Everybody has got a siren on their darn car. I don't know why. Pretty soon I was just like, ugh. But the challenge is... Because one day you'd get a call from the... I remember Andy Carr called up and said, "Art, there's somebody, one of your park rangers is arresting somebody down a Chesapeake Bay here." He had a cabin there, wanted to know what was going on. I said, "Well, I'll find out for you because I sure don't know." In a heartbeat especially, I hated weekends because weekends are when the people, the politicians of their day are out recreating and they see things and then all of a sudden you've got to figure out and then find out your boss who if you can answer the question.
(40:40): But I got to spend a lot of time with three secretaries of the interior and never got to get in the White House. But that was okay. Got to watch helicopter take off a lot. It was quite an experience. Sausage making as I say because nothing is perfect back there.
But I lived east of where the Supreme Court building is in a basement apartment. I walk to the work almost every day, rain, sunshine, snow. And I go, "How many people on Earth get to walk the National Mall daily and see these monuments and experience that?" So it was a great growing experience. Even though I was fully grown, I was like, "Wow, I'm here. How many people get to do this?"
Adam Williams (41:30): It's the center of a different kind of broader history here, right? You came from a family and territory with history but that certainly gives you access at the center when you have all the Smithsonian museums and so on. But thinking of the politics part of that, when you and I talked beforehand, you had mentioned that you learned from your parents how to remain neutral in that kind of environment. And I'm guessing that that probably served you well there in DC.
Art Hutchinson (42:01): Yeah. It was actually key to, I think, part of my success. And I had one of the deputy secretaries said, "Art, you're one of the few that doesn't seem like you have an axe to grind on everything." And I said, "No, because I'm trying to figure out an answer." It was really easy to be a neutral person first of all and say, "Well, are you Democrat, Republican, or what?"
I said, "I don't have an affiliation, I have to play both sides of this and see who's right and who's wrong, or how we can help." I think it's helped here in Salida a little bit. My dad was fairly apolitical. He was on the school board for 29 years, but he never really jumped into politics.
Art Hutchinson (42:39): I try to maintain that thing here too. There's always two or three sides to every story. And obviously, we are in a political world sometimes more than I would like to see, but I have enough to do without jumping into all of that.
Adam Williams (42:55): It dates back all the way too, I think Joe Hutchinson, right? Again, the family member who founded the family's existence here because he was in the, I'll say state legislation, but it even actually went back to territory before Colorado was a state. Correct?
Art Hutchinson (43:12): Yeah. It starts with really the fact that the Ute Indians let him stay, let the family stay. He was Chief Colorado and he knew [inaudible 00:43:21]. Colorado would eat dinner at the ranch and he provided so many, as they say, beefs per year for the Utes because by then they were almost starving to death. He knew that he was a guest on their part of their world. He maintained that. Then he got in the territorial legislature and then when Colorado became a state, he was a state senator from this part of the world.
(43:44): So I don't know how he did it. He helped found the Colorado Cattleman's Association. They called it the stock growers. Even after the train got here, it's still was a haul to get to Denver. How do you not only run cows and family and get to the state legislature? It baffles me. These guys must have and their wives. Like Annabelle, she kept it going after he died in 1884 and made it until about 1915. How did they do it? I'm in awe of their stick-to-it-ness.
Adam Williams (44:21): There certainly was a heartiness to it and an energy to do so much. Something that strikes me with that is that there is this history in the family then of, I'll say, service, public service, community service. So whether it's in politics or not, you mentioned... I think it's pretty clear not necessarily being interested in politics yourself.
We're obviously living in a world that is right now very full of a lot of political heat. I'm wondering if what you find is with your experience out in the larger world you described earlier because you had that career, you got to learn more about that and learn things that were useful to you that now you've retired in... I think is it the last couple years? And come back here to Chaffee County.
Adam Williams (45:09): What is it that you are focusing on in terms of local issues and those things, and trying to work within this realm now that is so politically... There's such a gap between these perspectives? Do you find yourself able to engage with that neutrality and sort of straddle worlds and still serve this history?
Art Hutchinson (45:33): Well, it's getting harder, I believe to because you hear all sides of different stories and the people that fly the flag one way or the other or don't fly it. I just have learned to say I have plenty to do on the ranch. We're trying to keep the ranch well watered like it's supposed to be and that it's maintained, and that we're good neighbors. For example, this year, there was a fundraiser for the Democratic Party over at the Homestead and there's one for the Republican Party at the wedding barn.
(46:10): I think that's the best we can do is say, "Look, we're equal opportunity people here." And if ranches fail, this valley is going to fail I think even more so because the open space is what makes it good. So I'm hoping that the ranchers themselves can get together and say, "We're going to try to keep this open space open. We have a green, nice valley to live in." This valley was not a lush valley when it was first settled. The fields we have now were mostly sage brush type fields.
(46:43): So these water rights that we have and others have maintained are critical to keeping not only those things, the fields green, but the springs that go back to the river and help maintain the river during the low season is I think makes this place richer. You can't all just raft. We can't all just jeep up the hills. We need other things going here to keep, I think a vibrant, healthy place.
Adam Williams (47:11): Well, you certainly have experience and knowledge. I mean the actual education in terms of formal schooling, but also that career and the park service, the history with your family. I think you have this really unusual perspective about the value of the land and to conserve and think of the future as well as that history, right? Water is a huge, huge thing in general, but especially out here in the west right now. How do we bridge some of these gaps of opinions and stories and lead into the future and provide for the upcoming generations of the Hutchinsons, for example, and other ranchers to continue what they're doing here?
Art Hutchinson (47:57): Well, education is going to be... That's one of the reasons we really encourage the GuideStone people that help run the homestead over there. You said your kids went through a couple of these camps. What is the value of agriculture?
Because if you only go to a place that's like a museum and you can't touch that because it's... But here we're trying to make an experiential place for kids. They put tarps in the ditches to show how water flows out and they did a harvest camp the other day that kids just love.
(48:31): It's taking a village to do that so to speak. Without it, I don't know if kids here would even really know that that place exists. I've had a couple people that live in Poncha and I go, "Where do you live?" And I said, "Well, I live across the..." Oh, I said, "Do you know where the Hutchinson Homestead is?" "No, I've never seen it." I'm going you drive from Salida to Poncha every day and you see open fields. Does it even dawn on you that there's a sign says national historic site.
Adam Williams (48:58): The sign itself that says Hutchinson Homestead.
Art Hutchinson (49:01): So we are trying to, I think with that, have kids understand it. School buses come out there now and they can do things without just not touching stuff. We would like someday to maybe have a couple of the 4H kids can't have a steer and Salida can put it out there or another place on the ranch and they can come out and feed it and take care of it, and learn what it is to raise something up yourself and keep things going like that. I mean, we can't all just go to Safeway.
Adam Williams (49:30): You've mentioned that with all of the changes with the influx of whether that's vacationers, tourists, the booming population, the things that are drawing people out for outdoor recreation, but ranching and all these things of course still is part of what's happening here, and what needs to happen here. So what do you think the most significant issues right now that we as a county need to be focusing on and taking into account things like the land use code which is being developed to account for... Well, you mentioned the Conservation Easement, right? That's to protect and maintain the integrity of what has been the Hutchinson Ranch and not just be divided, but we also need to figure out the housing issue. Do you have thoughts on how do we balance all of these things?
Art Hutchinson (50:17): Boy.
Adam Williams (50:18): Big question.
Art Hutchinson (50:18): I wish I was that smart. I've been going to some meetings, listening in on that, reading the land use proposed codes and providing some input, especially on what ag lands could do for the place. I know we need housing. Everybody does. I just noticed that the town of Vail voted down letting Vail resorts put in low income housing for their workers.
So you go, "Okay, here's a brand new town..." Vail is only what, 50, 40 years old. They've had this problem for a long time. We're lucky that I think we've been able to keep it going though like we have. A lot of these little bungalow houses that house the railroad workers and the miners are now Vrbo's and that affects the school system, if you don't have kids in school.
(51:09): So there is a balance there. I don't envy the county commissioners and the other folks working on this. It's hard. This change, it's coming around. I think it's almost coming around too fast for a little town like Salida and put their arms around. BV is doing similar things. It's hard.
Adam Williams (51:30): You mentioned when you were in DC that you looked for answers. That was part of the whole thing of, "I don't need to get into politics, I'm looking for answers". And what came to mind for me then is answers instead of angles, right?
Art Hutchinson (51:40): Yeah.
Adam Williams (51:40): It's not about my political angle or my personal agenda, we have to work fast and together for answers, I think. And that's where the moderate neutral sort of, "Let's get it done thinking in voices." I think your voice is an important one here in the county. It's going to be essential to provide for whatever the future is.
I want to ask, it's sort of a similar question that I just asked, but maybe in a different way. This may be a little more personal to you, is what would you like to leave for generation six and seven who are already here in future generations of Hutchinson's and of course the others to come?
Art Hutchinson (52:19): Well, I guess if we could set examples, not just us, I don't want to make this all about our family, but having a school board for example, that can have discourse about things without having... I see around the country these screaming fits about a lot of things. Salida has always been able to have a fairly stable, congenial atmosphere about how decisions are made. So if we could contribute somehow to that to say let's... If you need a neutral place to go have a meeting, come out to our wedding barn and let's hash it out as just humans and not as discourse and talking past each other.
(53:04): So maybe if the ranch is one thing that can be a neutral place for the future, that would be one of my goals is to leave it that way as not... It didn't become a golf course, it didn't become a condo place. It became a place where we could all get together and talk about some things.
And that's the way I'm treating it now saying, "Let's do it. I don't put up political signs out there on either side." Just say, "Look, I know the county commissioners supported us doing this and they were of various parties. Let's just leave that green space between Poncha and Salida as a apolitical spot on the landscape."
Adam Williams (53:43):
We talk about all this change, but that is something that also retains the connection to the roots. Not just the roots of your family, but the roots of this county, the roots of this area. I think that sounds pretty wonderful to think that we have a neutral territory that we can all come together.
Art Hutchinson (54:01): So if we can do that... And a lot of good people make Salida what it is. Some have passed away and some are aging as we know, but if we can keep that spirit, so much the better. And then change becomes a good thing instead of a, "Oh my god, we changed so fast. We all fell apart."
We're still in a little isolated valley. No matter how you look at it, the canyon slows people down a little bit. And 285 has gotten so crowded, it slows people down. But we're still in this little central valley that I think it has some good potential.
Adam Williams (54:38):
It's special enough that you came back to it. After your career, you retired and moved back here.
Art Hutchinson (54:43):
And the good things are the mountains are going to stay. Hopefully the rivers will flow. We have a big broad valley that has a lot of nice sunshine and decent people. Let's try to keep it neutral and congenial.
Adam Williams (54:58):
Art, thanks for taking the time to sit here and talk with me today.
Art Hutchinson (55:01): You're welcome.
Adam Williams (55:02): I appreciate getting to learn from you.
Art Hutchinson (55:05): I appreciate your good questions and sorry if I couldn't answer them all. With great wisdom, but I'm trying.
Adam Williams (55:11): Oh, it's been a fantastic, fantastic talk. Thank you.
Art Hutchinson (55:14): Beautiful.
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Adam Williams (55:17): That was my conversation with Art Hutchinson. If what art shared here today resonated with you, you can email comments to Lisa Martin, one of our producers at email@example.com.
We also invite you to rate and review the We Are Chaffee Looking Upstream podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or whatever platform you use, assuming it has that functionality. We also welcome your spreading the word on your social media pages and even invite you to tell your family, friends and coworkers about Looking Upstream the old fashioned way, word of mouth.
Once again, I'm your host, Adam Williams. Jon Pray is engineer and producer. Thank you to KHEN Radio where we recorded today's conversation in Salida, Colorado; Heather Gorby for graphic and web design; Lisa Martin, producer and community advocacy coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Initiative; Andrea Carlstrom, director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and Becky Gray, director of the Chaffee Housing Authority.
(56:07): The We are Chaffee Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing and is supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities. You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at wearechaffee.org. And on Instagram and Facebook @wearechaffee.
Lastly, thank you for listening. And until next time, as we say at We Are Chaffee, be human, share stories.
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