Life on the lake

Two sisters find respite in wilderness of Northwest Colorado

Holly King was living life in the fast lane, working as a consultant for a law firm in Los Angeles. After 30 years in the city, her thoughts turned to the dreams she had always kept in the back of her mind -- living in the wilderness and perhaps owning a lodge.

She said that it might have been a mid-life crisis, or maybe just the need for a change that brought her to the White River, where she fell in love with Trappers Lake.

Searches on the Internet led her to a lodge that had been closed for sometime. She felt "amazingly wonderful" when she laid eyes on the area. Even with the burned hulks of trees from a devastating fire back in 2002, the beauty of the White River National Forest showed through.

She and her sister Carol Steele, a registered nurse in Denver, purchased the Trappers Lake Lodge, a dream she had for 20 years, she said.

"We came up in 2005 and looked at the lodge," King said. "It was incredible -- the wildflowers, the full moon."

She is quick to point out the history that accompanies the area -- the hunts by Teddy Roosevelt and the books written by Zane Gray that were inspired by the area's beauty and ruggedness.

The lodge itself has a notable history. The first lodge was located at the lake, inside of the wilderness boundary. That eventually gave way to the second Trappers Lake Lodge, located just at the edge of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. That lodge burned to the ground in the Big Fish Fire, which was started by lightning in 2002. The lodge was rebuilt that year, but management problems and closures were an issue, keeping visitors wondering about its status.

Since re-opening this summer, the Trappers Lake Lodge has returned as an exclusive playground for the most serious of nature lovers. With day-trippers visiting from Meeker, Rifle, and Craig, to the extended stays by corporate executives, the lodge and its 15 cabins have survived, thanks to Steele and King.

"It's rustic and remote. We have pot-bellied stoves in each cabin," King said. "We have electricity in the cabins, but the generator shuts off between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m."

Those visitors staying in the cabins need look no further than the lodge for their meals. Featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant is the reason some visitors make the drive 51 miles up the White River from Meeker.

One of those visitors Sunday was Kurt Kizewski, who recently moved from Tucson, Ariz., to Woodland Park. Since, he's made an effort to share the most beautiful parts of Colorado with his associates. That's what brought him and 16 of his clients and their wives to the White River to fish and enjoy the wilderness.

"We rented boats, and we were going to ride horses, but it snowed last night," Kizewski said. "Today, me and a couple of hearty souls are fishing. I caught a brook trout already."

Despite a mid-September snowstorm, a member of his party caught a cutthroat trout, brook trout, rainbow trout and whitefish all in the same day.

"It would have been a grand slam if he had been able to land a brown trout," Kizewski said.

Fishing is always a big part of a visit to Trappers Lake. The second largest natural lake in Colorado boasts that it is the home of the cutthroat trout, natives to the lake.

With hunting season underway, the lodge has seen its share of hunters, King said. But it's a peaceful place even for hunters because all-terrain vehicles are not allowed in the wilderness.

"We re getting serious hunters here," King said. "The 'one-shot' hunters."

Besides hunting from the cabins, hunters can choose from 11 wilderness camps offered by the two sisters at the lodge.

In the short time that the sisters have been in the lodge, it has become much more than home to them.

"When I go to Rifle or Craig for supplies, I think, 'I've got to get back in the mountains,'" King said.

She said that this year has been a learning and positive experience, and her goal is getting people to come out and experience the magic of the area.

"It's just amazing to wake up to it every morning, and go to bed to it every night," King said. "The stars and the moon. We've seen every kind of critter you can imagine."

The sisters are planning to keep the lodge open through the winter of 2007-08, but for this year, they will be closing on about Nov. 15.

That leaves just enough time for visitors to make the journey up the White River, to a place lost in time, next to the lake in the wilderness.

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com.

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