This story originally aired on Sept. 14, 2016.
Just inside the Fall River entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park are 42 acres of privately owned land. But that will last only a little while longer. Soon the National Park Service will acquire this land, the largest privately held swath left in its boundaries.
The property is home to 14 cabins that people from all over the world have rented for decades. The sale means that Richard Sipe, who has helped care for Cascade Cottages for more than a quarter-century, will leave this week for the last time.
He first went to Cascade as a visitor in 1987.
“As I recall the mattresses were pretty lumpy, and the decor was not the best. But, hey, they were cabins. We understood that," he says.
Sipe returned in 1989 and met Grace Davis, whose parents owned Cascade Cottages. Sipe, a widower, asked Davis out on a date.
“We were both from Wichita," he says. "I asked her if she wanted to go out to dinner on Saturday night, the last night we were here. She said yes! So we went to Dunraven [a nearby inn and restaurant]. She asked me later, 'how did you know that was my favorite restaurant?' I told her, that’s the only one I knew where it was!”
The two got married the next spring, by which time Davis' father had passed away. She and Sipe managed the cabins from then on, with help from Davis' sister, Mary Lee Johnson and her husband Earl.
"When Grace and I got married, she said, 'you know what we do in the summertime.' She has spent every summer here as a child,” Sipe says.
Within a few years they replaced the mattresses and the cabins got a makeover. For a few years they moved back and forth to Kansas, until they retired in 1994.
"So we got to spend all our time out here," he says, sitting in the office of Cascade Cottages. "Grace and I had 24 wonderful years."
Davis passed away on the day the cabins opened for the 2014 season.
Still, Sipe has loved the slow, simple life inside the park. Each day in the summer he checked in guests, directing them down a little dirt road to their cabins, some of which were built before World War II. Some of them face Fall River, which races during spring runoff, giving Cascade Cottages their name.
Sipe's favorite spot on the property is Cabin Three, where he and Davis lived for many years.
"It's just a small cabin, it’s a one-room cabin," he says, "but it's the only cabin in the whole complex that has a bathtub. And that's for Grace.”
The property was in private hands long before Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915. Grace Davis’ parents bought it in 1941. Sipe says his father-in-law was interested because he was a conservationist and loved the outdoors.
"And his philosophy was that he wanted to be a friend of man and live by the side of the road," Sipe adds. "And he truly fulfilled that obligation."
Now the family, including the Davis sisters' kids, is selling the property. "They decided, you know, since they have their own lives, they cannot maintain the thing, and I don’t know what God has planned for me," Sipe says. "We decided to move the property on while we could honestly make a good, conscientious decision.”
Rocky Mountain National Park is buying the land and the cottages thanks to a promise Grace Davis' parents made years ago that whenever they were ready to sell the park would get the first opportunity to buy, says Larry Gamble, the park's chief of planning and compliance.
“I'm so thankful for the family and honoring the commitment that was apparently just a handshake between L.V. Davis and whoever was superintendent at the time, I don't even know who that was,” Gamble says.
The family gets $3.4 million but the park will pay just $1.65 million, thanks to fundraising by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. The Trust for Public Land also helped make the sale possible by paying the park's portion up front. The organization expects to complete the sale to Rocky Mountain National Park by spring 2017.
Gamble recognizes this is the end of an era. “I can totally understand the incredible connections to this place," he says about Cascade Cottages. "It’s surrounded by Rocky Mountain National Park, so it’s brought a lot of people here to an incredible setting and generations of attachments. And I can understand the sense of loss, and I think what we do offer is that it will be preserved for future generations to come and enjoy.”
However, Gamble cannot say what the park will do with the land, or whether the cabins will stay up. The park will ask for comments from the public before it makes a final decision.
Richard Sipe is happy the land will be open to the public but he's sad to close down the cabins, and he is not alone. Dick Alldritt first came to Cascade Cottages when he was 5 years old, in 1952, and his memories of the place are sensory, like crawling into sheets hung up to dry on a clothesline.
“They smelled like the day, the fir trees and the snow and the flowers and the elk," he says. "The totality of this whole place was in those sheets when they put them on the bed.”
On a recent Tuesday Alldritt stopped by to say hi to Richard and share some cinnamon buns. They sat down in the main office, which has a small, rustic kitchen in the back, a bedroom to the side, and a big living room, with an old piano and several plush chairs.
“In this room, this is the way it was every night. Guests would come in. And Mrs Davis would make cookies, and this room would be filled with 10 or 20 people just telling their stories," Alldritt says. "They were from Africa and Australia and Europe. But what you had here was just an array of the most interesting, fascinating people from all over the world sitting right here. And, you know, we all have a story to tell. You felt like you were home. And, amazing. I’ll miss 'em all.”
Sipe closed the cabins to visitors for the last time a few weeks ago.
"We're putting [the cabins] to sleep. Draining all the water lines ... We’ll sweep all this off and get all these pine needles outta here," Sipe says. "And we’ll do the laundry, hang 'em on the lines, dry 'em, and that’s it. That’ll be the last time."
Sipe says he doesn't plan to take anything from the cabins, except maybe a sign hanging outside that points the way to the office where he sat for so many years.