It was about this time 94 years ago when Fred Barr cleared a small area beneath the face of Pikes Peak, made some measurements and then slapped the first rock and mortar into the foundation of the Barr Camp cabin.
An entrepreneur at heart, Barr made a living escorting visitors from near the top of Mount Manitou (now the top of the Incline) to the summit of Pikes Peak on the backs of his burros. He needed a shelter to house his guests, and a cabin with bunks fit the need. According to old newspaper reports, the adventure would begin at 5 p.m. on a summer evening. Tourists would ride for two hours to Barr Camp, catch a wink or two, then mount up and reach the mountain's summit at sunrise.
He finished the Barr cabin in 1924, then added two more structures for visitors in 1936. Barr Camp stands today as one of our precious landmarks and looks much the same as it did when he painstakingly fit the last logs into place.
But the conditions — especially the winters — at 10,200 feet are tough on everything. Deep snows come and go, leaving melt water to freeze again and again, and the culminating effects have left the cabin's foundation in bad shape. Though Barr built his structures to last, it's time for some overdue repairs.
"I don't think Fred Barr expected his cabin to stand for 100 years," said Neal Taylor, a former caretaker at Barr Camp. "I looked under one corner of the cabin and there is a block of the foundation, I don't know what it's made of, that really needs to be replaced."
The deck at Barr Camp, a sunny spot at the front door where hikers rest and warm themselves in the sun, is also in bad shape and will be replaced. There is a need for a new storage building, plus a key bridge on the trail between the Cog Railway and Barr Camp should be shored up.
With recent approval from the Forest Service, the upgrades can begin and it's time for fundraising. Construction in the backcountry is always expensive and these projects will be no exception. The repairs could be made by volunteers, but the Barr Camp Inc. board of directors has chosen to hire the construction company GE Johnson to be sure the job's done right. Fred Barr would probably agree.
"This has been needed for quite a while," said board member Don Sanborn. "The Forest Service has determined that the camp has historic significance, so we have to keep the camp as it is to maintain that historic look and feel, and that will add to the cost. And we'll have to bring material in by helicopter, so it adds up pretty quickly."
The board has about $80,000 in donations on hand for capital improvements, but needs another $100,000 to complete the work, Sanborn said. Anyone who would like to donate is asked to visit barrcamp.com/support.php.
There have been as many as 22,000 visitors a year at Barr Camp. Records are a little sketchy, but roughly 2,500 per year pay to spend the night there. Costs vary from $12 for tent camping to $33 for a bunk in the main cabin. Sanborn said the money collected covers basic costs to run the camp and pay the caretakers. The new construction will be covered entirely by donations.
"We're pushing and hoping to have it done this summer, but we still have lots of fundraising to do," said Zach Miller, who, along with his sister Ashley, has served as the caretaker for the past year.
Nestled in the woods 1,000 vertical feet below timberline, Barr Camp can be a joyous experience for all who visit there. On summer mornings the forest fills with the happy sounds of hikers who stop to enjoy the deck and feed the wild birds that eat from their hands. In the winter, Barr Camp pancakes for breakfast are legendary. It's a location that helps define our outdoor community.
"With this new foundation, we hope to put the cabin on solid footing heading in to the next century," Sanborn said.
OK, we see what you did there, Don. Foundation ... footing ... good one. Help is on the way.