Leadville Landowners Working to Renew their Property

Landowners working to improve the forest conditions of their property.
The McCalisters are working to improve the forest conditions of their property. Photo: McCalister

Bruce McCalister has a passion for restoring the rundown. And that passion is now making a difference in a section of forest that was literally falling apart due to poor health.

Twenty years ago, Leadville had its share of opportunities for people with such callings. McCalister says the mining town, with much of its past glory still visible in the downtown buildings, was a draw to him and his wife, Hillery.

“It was the last affordable Victorian mining town with a great history left, and it just so happened to have the highest mountain in Colorado,” he says.

Over time, the McCalisters renovated four Leadville homes to varying degrees, and during that process, they decided to bring the view from their windows closer. Some of the larger parcels just outside city limits had been subdivided into small-acreage lots, but the McCalisters wanted to feel like they were a part of the woods – and to be part of the woods required fewer neighbors.

In 2002, they found a piece of land outside of town that provided a better view of their surroundings, and afforded them some space. His passion for putting a new shine on something old spread to the forested property. His goals were to reduce the potential risk and severity of wildfire, reduce the occurrence of tree diseases and beetle infestations, and restore the land to a more natural state. But where to start? He knew how to restore buildings and vehicles, but renovating the forest was a new venture.

McCalister contacted the Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS) Salida District office, and a forester drove out to visit his property. He was informed that the primary threats to the lodgepole pine trees were dwarf mistletoe, a parasitic plant, and mountain pine beetle. The aspen groves were doing well where they had less competition from the lodgepoles and some protection from the wind, but not as well elsewhere.

Just like improving a building or vehicle, improving forest conditions would require commitment, but the forest is made up of living parts, so well-thought-out tactics would be important. McCalister contracted with the CSFS to collect forest data and then use the data to write a forest management plan. Like similar plans, it was based on McCalister’s own goals, prioritized recommended activities and served as a starter kit.

McCalister next found a local firewood cutter to thin over-crowded areas and remove those lodgepole pine trees with the greatest degree of dwarf mistletoe infestation. In pockets where all the trees were heavily infected, every tree was cut and removed so the forest renewal process could begin. Also, aspens were protected to promote tree species diversity.

Mountain pine beetles did find their way onto the property in the mid-2000s, but McCalister quickly learned how to identify the beetle-infested trees and, to his relief, the threat soon subsided and the impacts were minimal.

Reflecting back on his endeavors, McCalister says, “Optimism allows me to take the first step, then persistence and determination kick in.” He says he is not as far along as he had hoped to be years ago, as running a business and other commitments also require time, but he believes he is about halfway to meeting his forest management goals. To other landowners who want to actively manage their forested property, he recommends rolling up their sleeves and finishing one activity before starting the next.

Today the McCalisters live on the property in a small, energy-efficient home. And they have come to know the gray jays that live around them individually, by their distinct behaviors.

“Overall, I really like what has been accomplished,” he says. “It looks park-like, with grasses and young trees growing in the openings we created. We see more deer and elk.”

Cutting down trees is not something to take lightly from McCalister’s viewpoint. He says there should always be a positive result from the action. Indeed, there is a brighter glow in the forest on his land now; the bright green of young, healthy trees and the vibrant gold of aspens that now have room to expand.

Like the homes in Leadville, the forest has responded well to his care.

Note: Landowners interested in forest management on their own property can contact the CSFS Salida District at (719) 539-2579.