- Associated Press - Saturday, June 28, 2014

LOVELAND, Colo. (AP) - People are slowly trickling back to the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch even as the owners and their supporters work to piece together the 68-year-old landmark to reclaim at least a piece of its former glory.

The 3,200-acre ranch recently received its first group of overnight guests since September’s catastrophic floods wiped out several key buildings that held treasured family memories.

Those greeting visitors will be siblings David and Susan Jessup, whose parents - Maurice and Mayme - bought the property in 1946 and turned it into a working ranch with cattle, horses and guest houses for families and group events.

Before the flood, Sylvan Dale attracted 10,000 guests a year - not just tourists but business and government employees who held retreats in an idyllic mountain setting that put just about everyone at ease, said Susan Jessup.

Sylvan Dale also hosted about 60 weddings a year.

“Every person who comes here takes away a personal experience,” Jessup said. “It’s about connections that’s formed between people and the land and the horse and animals here. These are connections that are held forever.”

Jessup says that’s probably why more than $80,000 has been given to the ranch from people and groups for cleanup.

“They really weren’t donations per se,” she said. “They weren’t looking for any tax breaks - they were given from the heart.”

Loveland Mayor Cecil Gutierrez said he’s not surprised at the outpouring of support.

“Everyone knows about the Sylvan Dale ranch. It’s an iconic part of Loveland and Larimer County, and people from across the country come to stay there.”

Still, completely returning the old Sylvan Dale to its original form would probably cost much more than what has been donated.

Just to restore the Jessup Lodge - also called the J-Lodge - would cost more than $1 million, Jessup said. The Jessup Lodge, built in 1920 and remodeled in 1985, was a focal point of meetings, meals and other gatherings.

The September flood wiped out half the lodge, and the Jessups demolished the rest of the structure this year.

The swollen Big Thompson River, which cuts through 70 acres of the ranch’s main grounds, also washed over five ponds and a picnic area, which were ideal for fishing and family get-togethers.

The flood also took out two guest cabins - one was named after the Jessups’ mother; the other was home to their grandparents before they died.

Also damaged was the M & M Amphitheater, which was dedicated to Mayme and Maurice Jessup on their 50th wedding anniversary.

The 1976 Big Thompson Flood, while destructive, didn’t cause as much widespread damage to the ranch as last year’s disaster, Susan Jessup said.

But the Jessups slowly are regaining their footing - without the loans that were made available after the flooding.

“Those loans have to be paid back, and we just don’t have the capacity to take that financial responsibility,” Susan Jessup said. “We’re just going to ride this out and hope that a miracle comes our way.”

The Jessups, who put in a new wedding site on higher ground, already have scheduled six ceremonies, including one this Saturday.

The Heritage structure - one of the biggest on the ranch - was left intact, and six cabins and four guesthouses also survived. Also, a modular kitchen was brought in.

“And we have our beauty,” Susan Jessup said.

Meanwhile, the ranch’s 80 horses and 60 grass-fed cattle were in high pasture when the flood hit and are healthy and roaming the range above the ranch.

Sylvan Dale employs about 60 people during the tourist season, and last week, two of them - sisters Kelly and Erin Slatery - were helping with the cleanup.

The Slaterys’ grandparents met in the 1950s at Sylvan Dale, and members of the Slatery family return each year from Virginia to vacation.

The Slatery sisters saw the flooding and knew they had to return again this spring to help get the Jessups back on their feet.

The flooding, said 18-year-old Kelly Slatery, “was devastating, it was horrific.”

“Our family loves this place,” said Erin Slatery, a student at Harvard. “We knew we had to help out.”


Information from: The Denver Post, https://www.denverpost.com

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