The history of Fiester Preserve near Bill’s Ranch in Frisco
Bill’s Ranch is one of those neighborhoods in Summit County enveloped in a rich history. Structures built in the 1930s still stand, and descendants of original residents continue to be involved in the community. The story behind how the neighborhood came to be under Bill Thomas is undeniably unique — a farmer offering free plots of land on his 147-acre property for those willing to come up and build on it.
The history behind the Ranch is so interesting that the Frisco Historic Park and Museum had to double the size of their annual tour last October, and then still turned down another 40 people.
The residents of Bill’s Ranch today continue to cherish the history of their community, and in the ’90s, took a step into etching their mark on history by helping to designate a small parcel of land, a 6.125-acre area tucked between the Summit County Community Center and Bill’s Ranch, as a conservation easement, known as Fiester Preserve.
The land is owned by the Summit County government, obtained inside 96 acres of Arapaho National Forest in 1992 as part of the Homestake Land Exchange. Parts of this land were developed to become home to the County Commons building and Ophir Mountain Village, designated as workforce housing. Residents of the neighborhood hoped the sliver of land that buffered Bill’s Ranch and the County Commons would remain undeveloped, and appealed to the county to designate it as open space.
“It’s not just important to the residents of the Ranch — it is obviously important to the residents of the Ranch, because if something were to be developed, there would be no buffer between County Commons and Bill’s Ranch,” said Ben Little, chairman of Bill’s Ranch Taskforce. “… But it also is the main corridor that feeds the national forest, for not only Frisco and Summit County residents, but thousands of hikers and guests to the county who use that trailhead. It’s important to maintain a corridor like that, in terms of accessing the national forest trail, there at the Miner’s Creek trailhead.”
In 1996, the county amended the area’s Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning to set aside these 6 acres bordered by Bobwhite Way and Miner’s Creek Road as open space. Homeowners were still concerned, however, about changes in zoning, and so residents, led by Frank Smith Jr., worked towards putting a conservation easement on the land to ensure it would remain as is.
With the promises in place, the residents only needed to provide the funding for easement transaction costs. In 1997, Smith brought his case to the Continental Divide Land Trust (CDLT) — a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of open space — which estimated the transaction and endowment costs at $4,000. Smith raised the money needed and under the agreement he would be the one to name the area. And so the property became a conservation easement under the auspices of the CDLT — which had just started operations that year — and Summit County Open Space. Smith chose the name Fiester Preserve after Mark and Roberta Fiester, residents of Bill’s Ranch.
“It’s just a quiet area that cannot be developed or disturbed under the terms of the conservation easement,” Smith is quoted in “History of the Lane: Fiester Preserve,” distributed by CDLT. “We thought the Fiesters, especially Roberta, would have treasured the preserve because she liked nature so much.”
Mark was the pastor of Father Dyer Church in Breckenridge and Roberta was a school teacher who wrote books about nature and wildflowers. Roberta’s parents were one of two families to first take Thomas up on his offer to build on Bill’s Ranch. Her father, Reverend Dexheimer, chose a space on Miner’s Creek and told his congregation back in Denver of Bill’s offer, encouraging others to take up the free lots. Although Roberta and Mark’s lives together initially led them East, they eventually purchased a lot in the Ranch where they had honeymooned. The Fiesters were living in Ordway at the time, but commuted the 235 miles whenever they could. They began work on their house in 1950, which they named “Look-Up Lodge” due to its views of Peak One, Buffalo, Royal, Wichita and Chief mountains. The Fiesters moved to Denver but continued to spend summers at their Summit County home, and in 1965, Mark was able to move there permanently. He was appointed as reverend of the Father Dyer Church in Breckenridge, and spent years rebuilding both his congregation and the church itself, while Roberta remained in Wheat Ridge to teach at an elementary school to support the couple. To see each other, the pair commuted over Loveland Pass during the school year for the next 10 years.
Both Fiesters spent their lives writing, Mark publishing a history of Breckenridge, “Blasted, Beloved Breckenrige,” (1973) and Father Dyer’s biography “Look for Me in Heaven: The Life of John Lewis Dyer” (1980). After retiring from teaching in 1975, Roberta was able to move up to Look-Up Lodge full time, and spent her time learning about wildflowers. She wrote a slew of books about the natural world, inspired by her surroundings at Bill’s Ranch.
Mark passed away on March 24, 1996, at the age of 89. Roberta followed just a year later on May 6, 1997 at age 87. After her death, the Fiester children sold the Look-Up Lodge to Katherine Smith, Frank’s wife.
THE FIESTER PRESERVE TODAY
The Fiester Preserve today, however, doesn’t resemble what it did when it was turned into a conservation easement. The mountain pine beetle infestation that swept the West in the early 2000s also devastated the dense stand of lodgepole pines that covered the property, leaving only a few healthy trees. But the residents of Bill’s Ranch still cherish the property, and continue to work with CDLT and Summit County Open Space to try and restore the land to its original beauty.
“Since that time, we at Bill’s Ranch — and Summit County Open Space — have been planting trees,” said Karen Little, president of Bill’s Ranch Neighborhood Association. “They are not very big but they will grow. The ground cover has come back and the animals are there — it really is a sacred bit of forest that will come back and will be a wonderful open space.”
A task force was created in 2013 to continue with the efforts, and both the Littles said the space is already starting to look better. Just this past December, the Bills Ranch Neighborhood Association restored the sign at the entrance to the Fiester Preserve on Bobwhite Way, so that users of the area would be aware of the piece of open space they were using.
“There are trails through it that people from Ophir Mountain development and Frisco Bay use to get back and forth across between County Commons area and their homes,” Ben said.
In 2013, the Senior Housing Task Force identified the Fiester Preserve in Frisco as the preferred location for a continuum of care campus for seniors. In a CDLT newsletter dated Fall 2013, it was written that “CDLT has expended a considerable amount of resources and staff time this year in understanding the proposal and developing defense strategies,” against the development of the easement.
Bill’s Ranch residents and CDLT worked with the county to maintain the Preserve as open space, and the idea was eventually scrapped.
The Littles said residents of Bill’s Ranch want to make the community and guests aware of the importance of Fiester Preserve, as well as its history.
“It’s just a story about a little gem that was kind of forgotten and needs to be recognized and remembered,” Karen said.
Some of the background information for this article was provided by “History of the Land: The Fiester Preserve,” written by Maryann Gaug and created by the Continental Divide Land Trust with a grant from the Summit Foundation.
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