In the heart of Colorado’s Sawatch Range, Knapp Ranch is propelled by a vision to preserve the land, water, and wildlife in a rustic and timeless setting.
The history of Lake Creek lives on through tales, some told by old-timers and others found in the vast archives of the Eagle Valley Library District, of hardy folks settling in this raw and remote environment. Their stories, magnified by hardships that come with living in an environment defined by opportunity, speak to a kinship found in a community of people whose reverence for the land upon which they settled is evident everywhere.
Evidence uncovered by archaeologists at sites along the Colorado River suggests that prehistoric people inhabited the Eagle Valley year-round, traveling up East and West Lake creeks to hunt and gather in the summer months. Locally, the Ute Indians, Colorado’s longest continuous inhabitants, hunted, fished, and foraged for food in the Lake Creek Valley.
In the mid 1800s, thousands of miners rushed to Colorado, lured by tales of rich lodes of gold and silver hiding high in the mountains. The discovery of the Leadville lode resulted in a flood of emigrant prospectors and propelled many extensions of the railway network in the mountains, including a line into the Eagle Valley. Seizing the opportunity to make a quick buck, an entrepreneurial French florist-turned-miner named Joseph Brett settled in the valley just below Knapp Ranch, at the confluence of the Eagle River and Lake Creek. Brett developed the region’s first recreational guest lodge and hosted businessmen from Leadville and other booming mountain towns, and provided hunting and fishing expeditions throughout the area, and meals of fresh venison, trout and vegetables from Brett’s bounteous gardens.
On the site of the current Knapp Ranch are remnants of a cabin inhabited by the original homesteader, Joseph Vilda, a lone bachelor from Nebraska who trapped bear, grazed animals, and grew lettuce in the loamy soils of the upper West Lake Creek Valley at the turn of the century. Vilda moved on, and from the mid-1930s until 1970, local ranchers turned their sheep and cattle into the green meadows of the valley’s high country for the summer. In 1970, a group of investors, sporting high hopes of striking it rich in the building boom preceding the development of Olympic alpine event venues at nearby Vail and Beaver Creek, put forward a plan to develop one hundred eighty-five home-sites in the upper West Lake Creek valley. In 1972, after voters soundly rejected the Olympics, the developers retreated, leaving behind the scars of deserted roads, and left the land to return to its natural state.
Abandoned for almost twenty-five years, the property was rediscovered in 1990 by current owners Betsy and Bud Knapp. Recognizing the inherent beauty and ecological value of the land, the Knapp’s created a rustic living environment built around a vision of stewardship, responsible land use, sustainability, and preservation.