A historic U.S. Forest Service cabin rests at the base of Purgatory Resort’s Columbine and Graduate lifts. It resembles a child’s Lincoln Logs structure, with wooden siding, a snow-dusted green roof and shutters adorned with Christmas tree decals that could appear to have been punched out with a cookie cutter.
The Columbine cabin has sat atop its stone foundation at the base of the San Juan Mountains since 1941, 24 years before Purgatory was founded.
On May 30, the resort announced plans to remove the cabin to make room for a new team facility. Rather than demolish it, Purgatory is using a sealed bid process in which interested parties can apply to buy the cabin.
“We’re hoping that wherever it goes, there’s space around it and it’s well used,” said Andrew Gulliford, president of the La Plata County Historical Commission. “The goal is to have it continue to be a part of La Plata history, but it’s gotta be on a different site.”
Built in 1941, the cabin was part of the two-structure Columbine Guard Station. Columbine District personnel used the station as a base to carry out their duties, which included land and recreation management.
The Columbine District, which encompasses 403,000 acres of forest lands in La Plata County, was established in 1967 along with the Dolores and Pagosa districts.
Before the present three-district configuration was solidified, a six-decade period of reconfiguration characterized the structure of Colorado’s national forests. During that period, the Columbine cabin was subject to an ownership transfer.
“As part of various land swaps and trades, the Columbine Ranger Station ended up belonging to Purgatory,” Gulliford said. “It hasn’t really served its historic purpose for decades.”
Purgatory uses the cabin as its ski patrol locker room. In an email to The Durango Herald, Purgatory General Manager Dave Rathbun said the cabin has only operated in those two capacities.
Once the cabin is sold, its use and placement will be entirely at the purchasing party’s discretion.
Purgatory, the Forest Service and Historical Commission all hope to see the cabin relocated and restored, and have turned to a sealed bid process to select a promising buyer.
Those interested in the cabin must submit a proposal outlining the relocation and restoration project along with a bid for the property, Rathbun said in an email.
Interested parties can read more about the bid process on Purgatory’s website or contact Purgatory’s Planning and Development Manager Jack Caviness at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (757) 353-5631.
The proposals and bids will be reviewed by Purgatory management, representatives of the Forest Service, Columbine Ranger District and the Historical Commission, which will announce a winner no later than March 1.
“Whoever purchases it will either have to take it apart or find some other way to move it, but hopefully, they will keep it in La Plata County,” Gulliford said.
The interior of the cabin spans 1,883 square feet with a foyer that spans an additional 90 square feet. Building materials include logs, log siding, tongue-and-groove paneling, a metal roof, custom wood and exterior window shutters.
The structure is being sold “as is” with need for structural and cosmetic repairs with deconstruction. In addition to being responsible for renovating the cabin, the buyer will be tasked with the costs of relocation.
Historic Forest Service cabins have been moved around before, Gulliford said. The Columbine cabin is one of hundreds that were built across the Rocky Mountains.
“The plans came about before World War II,” he said. “Some of them were finished literally right before we entered the war. They were designed, used and built by the Civilian Conservation Corp. Now (there are) maybe 50 to 60 left. Wood rots and things happen.”
The style and design of the Columbine Cabin are familiar to Gulliford, who says there were several deviations from the traditional blueprint.
“Some were built in an L-shape; some of them had an auto garage, back when you could put a Model A or a Model T in a garage,” he said.
Some of the remaining cabins have met the criteria to be historically designated on either the national, state or county level.
All designations are voluntary, and Gulliford said that under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, any kind of renovation of a historically designated site requires formal review by the governing body of the area.
Between the deteriorated physical state of the cabin and the alteration of the landscape on which it sits, the Columbine cabin does not meet the criteria to be historically registered on the county, state or national level.
“This one wouldn’t qualify because it’s been changed so much,” Gulliford said. “I’m looking at a picture: it’s got one historic window, it’s got another window which is vertical, there’s been a replacement window, too many things have been added.”
Lack of historical designation aside, the historical value of the Columbine cabin is immense.
“It’s very important to preserve our historic past, and that’s exactly what Purgatory is trying to do with this bid process,” he said.