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River Restoration Tour Stops At Sylvan Dale

Four years after a monster flood tore through the Big Thompson River corridor, great progress has been made in restoring ecological health and resilience to a dozen of the hardest hit stream reaches.

Shayna Jones, Director of Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, leads river restoration tour

These projects, carried out by the non-profit Big Thompson Watershed Coalition, were visited by a busload of landowners, public officials, technical advisers on September 27, 2017.  One stop was at Sylvan Dale Ranch, where trout habitat was restored along a mile of river.  Renewed water flows in a side channel will be the location of environmental education courses for the Heart-J Center for Experiential Learning, a new non-profit that will hopefully assume ownership of the 3200-acre ranch in the future.

A great description of the tour appeared in today’s Loveland Reporter-Herald.

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Trout Habitat River Restoration at Sylvan Dale Ranch

Jurassic beast, monster jaws scooping mouthfuls of rocks and cobble, seizing boulders the size of refrigerators, uprooting trees, pushing aside mounds of rubble as if they were feathers, roaring and clanking.  Then, with a sudden personality change, it swivels its long neck around to gently sprinkle sand and gravel over the sloped river bank, pat it down with gentle bumps of its huge head, nudge rocks into place, scraping and smoothing the surface as if building a nest, then washing the dirt off the rocks with a slurp from the river water splashed onto the bank.

The 2013 Big Thompson River flood devastated trout habitat, leaving behind a “sluice-box” run of shallow water rushing down a uniform gradient with no holding water for trout.  The Big Thompson Watershed Coalition obtained a flood recovery grant to restore the stream here at Sylvan Dale and in several other reaches of the river.  Work was completed in May 2017 by Environmental Resource Consultants.  The trout are happy.  So are the anglers.

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My Nov. 17 Book Talk at Loveland Museum

Here’s the Press release that just went out on my upcoming presentation of Mariano’s Choice at the Loveland Museum at 5:30 PM on Thursday, Nov. 17.  If you’re in the neighborhood, drop in and say hi!  Also, the Loveland Library is having a local author’s day tomorrow, Nov. 12, from 1-4 PM.  You’ll see my smiling face there too.

Author David Jessup Blends Colorado History, Fiction in November 17 Talk.

Mariano's ChoiceAuthor David Jessup brings Colorado history to life in his latest novel about Mariano Medina, Loveland’s first settler.  His presentation at the Loveland Museum on November 17 features photos of the real characters who lived on the frontier during the lead up to America’s 1846 war with Mexico.

According to New York Times bestselling author Sandra Dallas, the book “adds flesh and blood to the bones of one of the West’s legendary mountain men.”

“Mariano’s Choice is one of those rare, wonderful books that sticks in the mind and heart long after you’ve read the last page,” according to Anne Hillerman, New York Times best-selling author.  “Masterfully paced, it offers an intriguing snapshot of the West through the eyes of characters largely ignored by mainstream fiction.”

Mariano Medina is most well-known for having saved a U.S. Army brigade that attempted to cross the Colorado mountains during the Mormon War in 1857. While history does make some account of Medina’s adult life, little is known about the childhood of a man known for his grit, tough nature and courage. That’s where Jessup’s story begins in Mariano’s Choice.

“I mused about his motivations and personality. I felt the urge to fill that information in,” Jessup said. “I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if he wasn’t always this brave tough guy, but as a youth was cowardly and afraid,” Jessup said. “And how might that transformation have come about?”

In Jessup’s fictional version, young Mariano Medina witnesses a vicious attack on a girl he adores and flees in inexplicable terror.  Fifteen years later, as a grown man training horses along the Oregon Trail, he has a chance to redeem himself if he can overcome his cowardly urge to flee. His choice will lead Medina back to the land of his childhood, where he must confront his darkest fears and uncover the hidden source of his panic in the ghostly stare that haunts his dreams.

Jessup’s talk and book reading is scheduled for 5:30 PM on Thursday, November 17th, 2016, at the Loveland Museum, 503 North Lincoln Avenue.  There is no charge, and no registration is necessary.  Proceeds from book sales will support the Loveland Museum and the Loveland Historical Society, which will also accept donations at the event.

For more information about the book, visit www.davidmjessup.com.  The book can be purchased in advance at the Museum and at the event itself, or ordered from local and online book stores.

Images of the book cover and an author bio are attached.

For Further Information, contact:

Author David M. Jessup, davidj@sylvandale.com; 970-481-8342

Jenifer Cousino, Loveland Museum, 970.962.2413   Jennifer.Cousino@cityofloveland.org

Mike Perry, Loveland Historical Society, (970) 667-3104, Mperry1000@aol.com

 

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Sylvan Dale Beef Described in New Book on “Real Food.”

real-food-fake-food-coverOur ranch’s 100 percent grass-fed beef got favorable mention in Larry Olmstead’s new book contrasting fraudulent food practices with “real food.”  I’m bemused by the “real cowboy with a taut build and sun-weathered skin” who took the author on a tour of Sylvan Dale.  Larry Olmstead is the travel and food writer for Forbes Magazine, and his research on food industry fraud has been featured  on CBS, Time, USA Today and NPR.  The excerpt is quoted below:

…at the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, overnight guests can get a more complete dude ranch experience, including horseback riding, target shooting, roping, fly fishing, cowboy songs, bonfires and much more.  But what makes Sylvan Dale different from dozens of other similar working guest ranches across the American West is that they also serve lucky visitors real grass-fed beef from the farm as part of their stay.  The ranch is owned by a brother and sister and their respective spouses, and the brother, David Jessup, gave me a tour.  We had to drive quite a ways out to where the cattle were grazing on open ranchland, just like they would have all across the West a century ago.

Sylvan Dale was begun by Jessup’s parents in 1946 and for more than fifty years just raised calves, which were shipped off to industrial cattle feedlots to fatten quickly through the miracles of alien diets and modern pharmaceuticals.  But about ten years ago the siblings noticed growing demand among local consumers—they are just outside of health-obsessed Boulder—for more natural drug-free beef.  So they began keeping and raising some animals of their own to butcher and sell locally.  Jessup, born and bred a real cowboy, right down to the boots, buckle and hat, with a taut build and sun-weathered skin, quickly became an ardent student and late convert to grass-fed, truly natural farming.  “At first, we used some grain to finish them because that was conventional wisdom, considered ‘normal.’  But then we really found out about the health benefits of purely grass-fed beef and how much better the kind of fats produced were, even compared to those fed just a small amount of grain.  Now we raise all our cattle ourselves, from birth to slaughter, and they eat strictly grass.”  The problem for consumers is that unlike Cook and Jessup, many farmers still sell beef finished on grain as grass fed.
Excerpt from Real Food Fake Food, Why you don’t know what you’re eating and what you can do about it, by Larry Olmsted, pp. 244-245.

 

Our Promise

With three last great breaths, our dog Promise passed into the Great Beyond on a beautiful sunny Friday morning, September 2, 2016.  What we had thought was some sort of spinal injury, detected only two weeks earlier when she had difficulty keeping her hind legs under her, turned out to be a rampant form of cancer, what the vets called a blood sarcoma.  A scan revealed tumors spreading throughout her body only three days before she died.  So sudden.  So shocking.  She was only seven years old.

We had hoped Promise would live long enough to greet our family members about to gather at Sylvan Dale for our 50th wedding anniversary.  But that Friday, the morning of their arrival, it became obvious that Promise would not be able to hold on.  We carried to our car, laid her in the back on her special blanket, and drove to the vet.  Thankfully, she didn’t appear to be in pain, and she fell peacefully to sleep in our arms when the vet administered the anesthesia.

Everyone who met Promise seemed to be irresistibly drawn to her.  Initially it was her striking beauty– those big dark eyes fringed with mascara-like lashes bordered with swirls of tan and black.  That pure white ruff of collar, chest and front legs, the bluish-grey back of fur so silky and soft you couldn’t keep your hands off it.

But she was more than just a pretty face.  Promise was a real people-lover.  She would greet people, lean against them, smile her doggy, pink-lipped smile, and wiggle her bottom with its stump of a tail so vigorously you’d think she’d lose her balance.  With other dogs, she was mostly indifferent.  But if you were two-legged, you got the royal welcome.  If you happened to enter a room where her stuffed toys were handy—green bear, fat rabbit, dust ball, road-kill kitty and many others, she would select one and bring it to you, twisting and turning and rubbing her body against your knees while inviting you to scratch her rump and admire, but not touch, her toy of the moment.

And oh my, the sounds she would make!  All manner of low whines, eager moans, throaty groans, and passionate pants, a vocalization more diverse than that of most babies, all to let you know that you were the best thing that ever happened to her, that you just made her day by entering the room, that her life was now worth living because you had arrived.

She was smart, too.  Like most Australian Shepherds, she learned a surprisingly large number of human words.  All you had to do was say, “do your go-go,” and she would dutifully trot outside and squat in the grass to squeeze out a few drops, whether she had to go or not.  This amazed the vets, who gathered around to witness this command performance whenever a urine sample was needed.

Like all working dogs, Promise had jobs.  Fetching the paper was one she looked forward to every morning during our coffee time.  At the ranch, she cleared geese of the grass at our wedding site and chased elk off our hay field in Big Valley (you can watch her on Youtube:  “Promise, the elk-chasing cow dog.”)  If you ever said the word “elk” or “geese,” even in normal conversation, her ears would leap to attention, and eager whine would escape her throat, and she’d be ready to go to work.

She never got the hang of cattle herding.  Instinctively she knew she was supposed to take this on, but she got too excited and would bark and watch me rather than focus on the cattle.  She was expecting me to give direction, which I was untrained to do, so we never quite became a cattle droving team.

The flip side was that she almost never ran off and disappeared for long periods of time.  She seemed so devoted, and so focused on Linda and me that she never wanted to leave our side.  She would get upset if Linda and I went off in different directions.  “Stay together, we’re a pack,” she would say in dog language.  If she was alone with one of us, she would follow us from room to room, and lie or sit as close as she could to wherever we were working.

When we drank coffee in the morning on the couch, she would lie as close as she could.  She knew better than to climb on the furniture, but she would now and then test these limits by casually putting a paw up on our legs, then, if no one pushed her down, the other front leg would come up, than, sneakily she would edge forward, hind legs still on the floor, until as much of her body as possible would be in our laps.  Hey, as long as her back feet were still on the floor, it wasn’t really getting on the furniture, was it?

The hardest two days for me came after her diagnosis, when her eyes would follow me around the room as she lay on her doggy bed, too weak to pad around after me.

We buried Promise under a ponderosa pine tree on Memory Hill beside the J-house at the ranch.  Sylvan Dale staff members helped dig the hole in the hard-pan dirt, which resisted our pick and shovel efforts as if reluctant to accept her furry body.  We tossed some of her toys, a rose and a pine cone in with her before covering her with soil and flat sandstones.  Later, someone left a can with sunflowers beside the boulder beside her grave.

Promise had a good life and a gentle death.  We will miss her.

 

These Fishermen Don’t Lie

David J with big fish croppedEver ask a fly fisherman how he did?  Did you believe his answer?

We fly fishing fanatics are sometimes known to exaggerate stories about our catch.  Hey, it’s part of the fun!  But at a river habitat restoration workshop on March 9 at Sylvan Dale Ranch, a group of anglers pledged to tell only the truth.  Their job?  Take a fish inventory to see how trout are recovering in the Big Thompson River 18 months after the devastating flood of September 12, 2013.

After hearing speakers talk about techniques of river habitat restoration, five avid anglers set out to do some “fish sampling.”  Armed with fly rods and their favorite trout flies, with notebooks and pens in pockets, they fished for three hours pledged to keep careful track of size, type and condition of all trout caught.

The results:  twenty one healthy, bright-colored rainbows, ranging from 12 to 16 inches, caught mostly on small nymphs, and released back into the water.

How can trout recover so fast from a deposition of rubble and silt up to twelve feet in depth from a flood that left the river corridor looking like a moonscape?  Bugs, mostly.  A “bio-blitz” of aquatic insect life, carried out by another group of workshop participants, found a healthy population of mayflies, stoneflies, caddis flies and midges in the river.

Mother Nature can be destructive, but also has awesome healing powers.  We’re pleased by the Big Thompson River recovery so far, and we’re looking forward to even greater fly fishing when we implement a grant this fall to place boulders and downed trees in the river channel to create even more spectacular trout holding water.

David J

Why Help Ranchers Improve Our Watershed?

In response to an article by Bobby Magill in the Ft. Collins Coloradoan about a new “Ecosystem Services” Conservation Effort in Larimer County, one reader questioned whether city dwellers should contribute funds to help farmers and ranchers reduce nutrient or sediment pollution that flows from their lands into the watershed.  Shouldn’t there be regulations that force landowners to assume these costs themselves? he asked.

A legitimate question.  Here is the answer prepared by the Steering Committee of the Colorado Conservation Exchange, the group promoting the ecosystem services concept.

There are hundreds of small livestock and horse operations in our watershed, and thousands of agricultural crop lands.  Individually, none of them releases significant pollution or sediment into lakes and streams.  Collectively, they hold the potential to improve water quality for all. Read more