Greetings from Boulder Colorado! I am sitting here at my friendâ€™s house, in Boulder watching the snow come down. So far there are about 6 inches. Ordinarily not such a big deal, except that I came out to Colorado with no boots(!!) and I have a tiny car that will probably act more sled than car when I try to leave here:-)
I am spending the week out in Denver/ Boulder area meeting members of the community and making contact with potential stakeholders. I want to write about one amazing experience I had on Friday up at the Lost Valley Ranch.
Ramah owns a 350 acre ranch about 90 miles from Denver called the Flying J Ranch. While Ramah Outdoors has yet to decide on where it will establish base camp, we will certainly be using the Flying J property for at least some of our adventure activities. The closest neighbor to the flying J is a Ranch called the Lost Valley Ranch owned by a rancher named Bob, who uses his ranch as a dude ranch. Next door in the Rockies means about a 10-15 minute drive along a dirt road!
Bob has been on his property for many decades and knows a thing or two about horses. As a new guy in town, I thought it would behoove me to get to know our neighbor, so I called him up and asked whether I could come and meet him to introduce myself and hear a little about the program he runs on his ranch.
So on Friday, Don Skupsky and I rented an SUV and drove up to Deckerâ€™s Colorado. When we arrived at the Lost Valley Ranch, we discovered a huge dude ranch. When the LVL is in full session they have 150 horses and 70 staff members. They own thousands of acres of land, and use about 500 in their riding and cattle hearding.
Bob is a tall man, about 6â€4 with a very broad build. He was wearing Jeans with a big belt buckle that had a â€œBâ€ in the middle. His assistant, Tony, who is in charge of all the horses, was a little shorter than Bob, even more muscular and dressed in stereotypical cow-boy garb: a broad leather hat, jeans and cow boy boots. Bobâ€™s family has owned the ranch for 50 years, and Tony has been the ranch manager for the past 12.
It is hard to overstate how warmly Don and I were received. We sat with Bob and Tony for over two hours discussing horses and what it takes to run an equestrian program in the area. Bob told us all about dealing with the forest service and all the ins and outs about going from private land, to forest land to wilderness area. He described the forestry service as a little fiefdom, where each ranger controls his/her part of the forest and uses his/her own rules when it comes to giving out permits. He gave us names of key people in the forestry service who we should begin developing relationships with. Over all, in these 2 hours, I learned a ton about some of the bureaucratic aspects of what it is going to take to get the tripping part of the program up and running.
One of my goals, in meeting Bob was to inquire into the possibility of renting his horses for the ROA program, or to bringing the kids from ROA to the Lost Vally Ranch. I soon discovered, that Bob, was not interested in renting out his horses, as he is usually filled to capacity during the summer. He did however, break down the cost of renting horses from a larger supplier and the costs of stabling these horses during the summer. Surprisingly, the cost of renting and stabling horses is a fraction of sending campers on rafting trips! Over the next few weeks/month I will continue to explore this option, as obviously having a robust equestrian program is going to be a key part of ROA.
One of the most interesting â€œtake awaysâ€ from our conversation was Bobâ€™s emphasis on staying true to our mission. I asked Bob whether he thought we might be able to work out a deal where we rent our own horses, but then use his wranglers a few times a week to come over and help with the riding. Tony tsaid that you could teach a monkey to be a wrangler, but it was much harder to find someone who would fit in with the broader mission of the program. Bob asked me what the goals were for the horse program and how that program fit in with the larger camp. He said we would do much better by finding Jewish wranglers who could also teach the Jewish aspects of the camp and of taking care of animals. Imagine this, a western cowboy telling a Jewish guy from New York to make sure that we use the horse program to emphasize Jewish values! He said that he does not do any type of program on his ranch without thinking about it fit in with the broader mission of his program.
Bobâ€™s comments made me realize the importance of staying true to ones mission. Here he was rejecting the offer of extra business, because our camp does not fit in with his mission. And there he was telling me, a future rabbi, how to run a Jewish camp! But Bob is 100% correct. The goal of a Ramah program can not just be â€“get kids to ride horses. It must be far more expansive. Becoming a good rider is not just an end in itself. At Ramah it must be a means to an end. All programs at Ramah must point towards our common mission.
Because Shabbat was coming in early, at around 12:30 we thanked Bob and Tony for their time and said that we needed to get back to the city. Bob said, â€œoh yah Shabbos is coming in early!â€ (Excuse me!) I asked him how he knew about Shabbos (with the S at the end). He told me he had a Jewish group from Philadelphia on the ranch a few years back who koshered his kitchen and celebrated Shabbat on his ranch. I told him that if we ever do Shabbat on the Flying J, he had an open invitation to join us for services and dinner.
Before heading back down the mountain, Tony offered to give us a tour of the ranch, so he fired up his 3 ton pickup (by far the largest truck I have been in) and gave us a driving tour of some of the property. It had snowed about three inches while we had been sipping tea together, but the powder was no obstacle for this mega truck. (for those car buffs out there, he also had a 1959 dump truck in the lot with a 5 foot blade that he fires up when it really snows!. He said it works like a charm).
Of course, the same could not be said for our little SUV that we had rented. We stopped by the flying J Ranch on our way back down the mountain, and all was going fine until we turned a corner and just like that were stuck in a snow bank about 18 inches deep! The tires spun and â€œphmp!â€ we came to a halt. I jumped out of the SUV with my sneakers on and was calf-deep in snow. Don spent a few minutes rocking the car forward and backwards until he could get enough traction to back up down the dirt road (there was no room to turn around). For a few moments there both Don and I thought we might be spending Shabbat in the mountains. But luckily, this did not happen and we got back to Denver with plenty of time to get ready for Shabbat.
The snow is letting up, I think I actually might make it back to Denver today. More to come later in the week!