Ranch A now fully available for public use

Ranch A now fully available for public use

By Sarah Pridgeon

Almost a century ago, a tourist asked a local man in Beulah where to find a trout as delicious as the one he’d just been served for dinner. Easy, came the reply – that’ll be out at Sand Creek. The man purchased 2000 acres and built a vacation home on the very spot he’d been pointed towards, little knowing that it would one day become one of this area’s most important historic sites.

Until recently, federal stipulations meant that Ranch A was limited in what it could offer to the public as it could only be used for educational purposes. That changed five years ago and the Ranch A Restoration Foundation is hoping visitors from near and far will come to enjoy the new features around the site.

“The State of Wyoming owns this facility,” says Gayle Ryan, Secretary of the Ranch A Restoration Foundation board. The size of the site has changed over time but currently sits at around 1000 acres.

“It was originally built by a man named Moses Annenberg. He was a Russian immigrant – hence Ranch A – who was a newspaper tycoon and a bookie in Philadelphia,” says Ryan.

“The story is that he and his son were traveling to Yellowstone, they came through Beulah and stopped for supper. They had rainbow trout for supper and he said it was the best trout he ever ate.”

When he was told that his dinner had recently been swimming in the nearby creek, he purchased land by the side of it.

“There was nothing here at that time – it was a ranch. He bought it and built the beautiful buildings in the 1930s,” Ryan says.

“Annenberg had it, then it went through several private ownerships, then the federal government got hold of it and that was when it was a fish genetics laboratory.”

The State of Wyoming then acquired it from the federal government under the condition it was used only for educational purposes.

“That was part of the deal,” she says. “But then about five years ago, Cynthia Lummis was instrumental in getting that reversionary clause taken out and so now we can rent it out for weddings, family reunions and so on.”

Now free to use Ranch A however best suits the community, the foundation opened it to visitors much more than it had been before. The three buildings are now all available to rent for vacations, weddings, reunions, parties and other events.

“The lodge we rent nearly all summer to South Dakota School of Mines, which has three geology camps here, so it’s full for most of the summer,” she says. “At this point, they are our main clients.”

Inside the main lodge, which was constructed along with Ranch A’s other log buildings by the Juso brothers and furnished with the designs of Thomas Molesworth, is a large gathering area that hosts the foundation’s fundraisers and upstairs rooms for guests, as well as a kitchen and bathrooms.

Quilters, beaders and other groups looking to convene for a project or gathering are also common visitors to Ranch A, says Ryan, often opting to stay in the Pete Smith Memorial Cabin that, like the lodge, is open on a seasonal basis.

“Pete Smith was the son of the ex-Governor of Wyoming, old Nels Smith,” says Ryan. “The Nels we all know is Pete’s son.”

The cabin features a downstairs area for visitors to gather and rooms upstairs that were until recently occupied by the caretakers and can sleep around 12 people. The upstairs is on the list for refurbishment but even now serves as a cosy, full-service living space with deck and kitchen.

Babcock House sits further up from the other buildings. “In the old days, we called that Ranch B,” Ryan says. “It’s a nice old house and we rent that out year-round now.”

A small group on vacation could rent the Babcock House, she says, or are welcome to enquire about the other buildings regardless of party size. “We charge per night, per person,” she says.

Four cabins just inside the entrance arches were originally built for Annenberg’s friends, but are now rented out as homes, part of the community has grown up around the historic site since it was first built and is still thriving now – the road to Ranch A is lined with homes in stunning surrounds.

A new feature for Ranch A this summer is a walking path snaking through the grounds and crossing the creek to offer a serene stroll on a summer afternoon.

“John Schafstall was the board president for many years and he passed away a year ago, so the path is now the John Schafstall Memorial Walking Path,” Ryan says.

Like most of the work performed to maintain the Ranch A buildings and grounds, the walking path was constructed by caretakers, Mark and Annette Viergets. “They are fabulous,” says Ryan.

Partly due to a sizeable chunk of state money that Senator Ogden Driskill successfully convinced the Wyoming Legislature to funnel into Ranch A earlier this year, Ryan says, there are more projects on the horizon. The first will be to tear down the green shed near the buildings.

“We’re very grateful to Ogden,” she says. “Our intention is that we’re going to take that down and build a multi-use facility about the same size, only facing toward the creek. It will be enclosed, but it will have big windows on the south side.”

The facility will have a large pad in front and, hopefully, a gazebo, making it the perfect tranquil spot for a wedding and reception.

“It’s gorgeous back there,” she smiles, excited to tell the community that Ranch A will now be giving a different answer to a common question. “We’ve had a lot of people ask about weddings over the years and we’ve had to tell them no, we can’t do it. Well, that’s changed.”

The barn, meanwhile, has a hay loft on the second floor.

“It’s a big, open space, which would be wonderful for dances,” she says. However, as sprinklers would need to be installed to meet safety requirements, this expensive project is currently on the backburner.

Alongside the income from rentals, Ranch A raises funds to keep the site maintained and open. The main annual fundraiser is coming up this month.

(Sarah Pridgeon photo) The lodge was designed by architect Ray Ewing of South Dakota and built by the Juso brothers using traditional Finnish log building practices.
(Sarah Pridgeon photo) The lodge was designed by architect Ray Ewing of South Dakota and built by the Juso brothers using traditional Finnish log building practices.

“We’re having a fundraiser banquet on Saturday, September 22. We have it here in the lodge with a happy hour at 5:30 p.m. with cocktails and dinner at 6:30 p.m.” she says.

“We have entertainment – Dalyce Sellers and Gordy Pratt, a really fun duo – and silent auction items. It’s a fun evening.”

The banquet will be catered by the Buffalo Jump. Reservations are required.

A volksmarch will also take place at Ranch A on September 8 with a free ice cream social hosted by the restoration board on the same day, an additional opportunity to explore the historic site that has transformed into a destination for the public as a whole to enjoy.

To find out more about rentals and events or book your seat at the banquet, visit rancha.com or call 643-3101.