HistoriCorps has had restoration projects at over 25 sites this 2016 season – and each one presented its own challenges and successes. The Simpson Lake project was perhaps one of the more challenging projects this year, due to a number of factors – from a pack-in and long hike up a mountain to the project site, to forest fires in the area delaying some work. And yet, our volunteers had a fantastic time and were able to complete much of the work that needed to be done. We’ll be back again next year!
Simpson Lake is located in Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, near Dubois. The project focused on the three historic log cabins (also known as Simpson Lake Lodge) located in a remote location atop the mountain range. The cabins are especially important because of their exceptional workmanship, built in 1926 by expert craftsmen who used hand tools to create fine detail in the woodwork of the lodge. The cabins were at one point part of the CM Ranch dude ranch operation in the 1950s through 1997 and are now owned by the Shoshone National Forest. They have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1992. At an altitude of 9780 feet, the cabins are a trek to get to – and therefore haven’t been able to be restored, until now.
In order to get to the project site, volunteers had to park at the trailhead in Dubois, then hike in with all their gear for 4 miles – a 2-3 hour walk – to the site, where they camped for the week. Pack animals followed, helping to lighten the load just a bit. Despite the altitude and the strenuous hike up the mountain, there were no complaints, and volunteers were simply happy to enjoy one another’s company. There was just one hiccup, where volunteer Adam Zolyak remembers,”On the drive in, one of the trucks got hung up on rocks / tree and we had to work together to free it. It was fun to need to band together early in the trip as a team.”
And what a team they were! Volunteers of all backgrounds and experience joined together to fix up the cabins this July, learning a great deal in the process. Linda Green says, “Several of us had little experience with the hand tools. One of the team leaders was extraordinarily patient with us as we turned the level every-which-way to measure an angle. We got it finally. Never once did he smirk or giggle as we worked it out with his gentle guidance. Great way to learn!!”
Linda continues, “I’d hoped to get a sense of history, place and community. My expectations were exceeded. It was an awesome experience.” During the first session, volunteers worked diligently, stripping layers of rolled roofing off of the cabins and replacing the roof decking. Deteriorated wall logs on two of the cabins were replaced. Don’t forget, all of this was done with hand tools and hard manual labor no power tools allowed! A great way to learn, for sure, and many possibilities for some real bonding between volunteers (who hailed from Connecticut, Alabama, Wyoming, and Colorado). At HistoriCorps, we love pairing up new and old volunteers alike – our projects are all about interactions and education. Adam felt the same way, noting, “I really enjoyed the backcountry aspect of this trip. This project combined my passion for the outdoors and national lands with learning about cabin construction and primitive tools / woodworking. I learned new skills and got to spend time with some awesome people!”
We had what our field crew might term a VIP volunteer on site as well – field supervisor Jonathan Williams brought his dad along on the hike and project site. Jonathan Williams, Sr. was thrilled to be working side-by-side with his son, especially since he’d visited the cabins before! “All I wanted to do was to return to Simpson Lake for the third time in my life and work with my son.” He says he most enjoyed “giving back to a place that has and always will be dear to my lifeline.” What did he get to do when he wasn’t working hard at restoration? “The crew got a half day off and Jon and I went for a hike up the valley to a spot I had not been before. The view was something neither of us will ever forget.”
Because of forest fires in the area, session 2 of the project was canceled but Jon and crew leader Eric White were able to get some work done nonetheless. The third and final session in mid-August was with Rocky Mountain Youth Corps volunteers, who got to spend time in the great outdoors while learning some unique construction methods. Another wildfire in the area brought some more excitement for the crew at the end of the session, and helicopters even showed up to assess the danger. Despite these concerns, everyone got out safely and plenty of work was accomplished.
Crews will return to the site again next year, where volunteers will do more roofing work, windows, doors, trim, and other tasks. Check in next year to register for this amazing project!