Boulder County project aims to keep historic sites out of harm’s way

A Caribou Ranch barn that once served as a music studio. Elton John’s 1974 album, “Caribou” took its name from the ranch. (Photo courtesy of Mark Leffingwell, Daily Camera Staff Photographer.)

Boulder County forestry and fire officials have teamed with the Landmarks Board to protect historic sites against wildfires.

Through the Defensible Space Historic Structures project, county officials are working to protect 100 structures on 17 different sites on Open Space properties. All of the sites are located in the mountains and foothills west of U.S. Route 36.

“It’s been pretty cool to learn about the history of some of these places in detail,” Nathan McBride, the project coordinator said during a presentation to the Boulder County Parks and Open Spaces Committee on Thursday evening.

The project is funded by FEMA hazard mitigation and wildfire risk reduction grants. County workers—partnered with an environmental consulting company—are primarily focused on mitigating dangers posed by vegetation.

“If it was somebody’s home and it wasn’t a historic structure there’s a lot we could do,” McBride said. “We could change the roofing, we could put on a metal roof, we could change the siding, we could change the landscape. We can’t always do that with some of these historic structures because then we’re starting to change that cultural integrity.”

For each site, McBride and the rest of the team are creating both a structural protection plan—outlining factors like the number of structures, the location, access points, and an outline of what can be done in case of a wildfire—as well as an audit detailing areas where additional mitigation is needed.

Several of the nationally registered historic structures being protected are near Nederland, where the Cold Springs Fire threatened many homes and structures last July. The protected sites include Caribou Ranch, Reynolds Ranch, the Rocky Mountain Mammoth Mine and the Cardinal Mine near Nederland, as well as the Blue Jay Mine in Jamestown, the Assay Office Museum in Fourmile Canyon, and Betasso Preserve and Walker Ranch in Boulder.

While the county is making a concerted effort to preserve these historic landmarks, saving people and their homes is the first priority in case of a fire.

“…if it’s heading over towards a housing development or whatnot, human life or homes will always trump these historic structures,” McBride said.

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