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Flying W chuck-wagon dinners to return to Colorado Springs

March 17, 2015 Updated: April 1, 2015 at 1:59 pm
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photo - Photo by Susannah Kay, The Gazette
Photo by Susannah Kay, The Gazette 

The Flying W Ranch plans to rebuild on its old ranch site that was ravaged by the Waldo Canyon fire and once again serve its chuck-wagon dinners, Executive Director Aaron Winter said this week.

The Flying W Ranch Foundation has not made a final offer to a contractor, but expects to break ground on a new building by Memorial Day. With any luck, Flying W could have a structure in place for the fourth anniversary of the Waldo Canyon fire in 2016, Winter said. The new building should seat between 700 and 900 people.

"We've been trying for years to get this thing up and running," but plans were stymied by floods, sediment build-up, burned trees and severe winds, Winter said.

Winter announced the ranch's plans to rebuild at a Waldo Canyon long-term recovery meeting on Monday. The group has been meeting regularly since the fire to discuss recovery efforts. 

Since the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire destroyed the beloved ranch nestled in the foothills of Mountain Shadows, there has never been any certainty that Flying W would rebuild. The ranch and its non-profit arm have much work to do as plans are finalized, Winter said. The ranch sits at the bottom of a drainage off the Waldo Canyon burn scar, and has faced severe flooding and all that comes with it - sediment piles, debris flows and extensive mitigation work. The dead trees that cover the property are starting to fall as the third anniversary of the fire approaches, posing yet another hazard to would-be visitors, Winter said.

"We removed hundreds of trees," he added. "We still have thousands upon thousands on the property."

The ranch was more than a chuck-wagon dinner restaurant and music show. It was rooted in Pikes Peak region history and cattle ranching. The ranch land, much of which became the Mountain Shadows neighborhood in northwest Colorado Springs, was owned by Russ and Marian Wolfe, who took over a working cattle and horse ranch in 1948.

In the 1950s, the Wolfes started offering horse rides on the ranch - over time, trail rides blossomed into the Flying W's famed chuck-wagon dinners accompanied by music from the Flying W Wranglers. In the 1980s, the Wolfes sold 800 acres to developers of the Mountain Shadows neighborhood, which lost 347 homes to the Waldo Canyon fire.

Although the working ranch was gone, the dinners remained a Colorado Springs staple until June 26, 2012, when a firestorm destroyed nearly all of the historic buildings on the ranch site. The Flying W Wranglers became itinerant performers, and have made occasional appearances at the mostly-barren ranch.

Once an official contract is signed, Flying W must submit development plans to the city of Colorado Springs, as well as get permits approved from the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department. While a finished building is likely more than a year away, the ranch is working to move its parking lot. Summer volunteer opportunities abound - volunteers can register at flyingwranchfoundation.org/volunteer.

The website for the ranch is beingbuilt, and the non-profit is three or four weeks away from announcing its specific plans for the rebuilding and groundbreaking, Winter said. The Flying W Wranglers might perform at the ranch this summer, but that will be "contingent on the rebuilding process," Winter said.

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