It’s been seven years ago this week that the Waldo Canyon forest fire crested the hills above Colorado Springs, bursting down into the city in a roar of flames and burning embers. The June 2012 blaze claimed two lives, consumed 18,247 acres and destroyed 346 homes.
One of the first casualties of the fire on the afternoon of June 26th was the historic Flying W. Ranch, a popular Colorado tourist attraction and one of the few (albeit commercial) remaining tastes of the Old West.
Following years of flood mitigation as well as maintenance and construction to clear the land, the Flying W Ranch remains closed. Its current operators suggest it’s a work in progress and are promising a grand re-opening next summer.
Founder Russ Wolfe, who died this past March 29 at the age of 94, started serving simple suppers on the site along with horseback rides in 1948, a side venture to help support the vast 6,000 acre cattle operation that stretched across the city’s west side.
I run by the Flying W Ranch every morning, crossing Chuckwagon Road and pass their large wooden sign advertising the closed business. The billboard is slowly getting covered over by tree branches. When I see it, the memories of past summer fun flood back.
I first visited the ranch on a family vacation in 1984. As a 12 year-old, little did I know I would one day own a house and raise a family just a mile from the picnic table where I was sitting.
A native New Yorker, I was mesmerized by the whole set-up, from the natural ragged rock formations and western village to the hearty dinner, drinking lemonade from a tin cup and finally being serenaded at twilight by humorous and melodic singing cowboys.
After moving to Colorado Springs in 1998, the Flying W Ranch became a favorite destination to bring out of town guests. Working at Focus on the Family, we hosted numerous gatherings there both outside during the summer and inside the steakhouse in the winter. From our kitchen, we could hear the strains of the music each evening, especially if the wind was blowing just right.
As it is for many local residents, the loss of the ranch for me is felt in a variety of ways, some too nebulous to identify and others easily quantifiable. Loss is like that sometimes. You see a sign, hear a song, smell a barbecue — and your heart suddenly aches for something you hadn’t even thought much about lately.
I recently pulled out my first Flying W Ranch ticket, a small rectangular piece of stiff cardboard with driving directions on it that don’t make any sense because the Mountain Shadows subdivision didn’t exist at the time of the printing.
But if you turn the card over, you’ll see a famous essay from the late Dean Alfange, a politician who died in 1989. A man who defied common partisan labels, Alfange is best known for this small but powerful essay, which he wrote in the 1950s. Russ Wolfe liked it and decided to put it on the back of every ticket, right up to the ranch’s last chuck wagon supper on June 25, 2012.
Here is what says:
“I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon. I seek to develop whatever talents God gave me — not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I want to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole. I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any earthly master nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid; to think and act myself, enjoy the benefit of my creations and to face the world boldly and say – ‘This, with God’s help, I have done.’ All this is what it means to be an American.”
I’m praying and rooting that the Flying W Ranch will rise again and that an entirely new generation of residents and visitors will experience what more than six million of us enjoyed between 1948 and 2012.
Most importantly, it’s my hope that in an age of creeping sympathy toward socialism and government dependency, this timeless creed will be reprised and embraced once again as a blueprint for the way forward for citizens of the greatest country on earth.
Paul J. Batura is a local writer, vice president of communications at Focus on the Family and a frequent contributor to Fox News. He can be reach via Twitter @PaulBatura or via email at Paul@PaulBatura.com