Leadville’s Magical Hoop Forest
Tree Rings Tell The Tales
Whether you’re a visitor or full-time resident, getting out into the woods is a big part of the day-to-day experience in Leadville Today. Connecting with nature and taking off on your favorite trails – especially these Indian-summer, incredibly beautiful days of late – makes for the perfect outing. So today’s post brings readers something old, and something new about what’s happening in the nearby woods.
First up, it’s the famous story of The Hoop Forest which was first published by © Leadville Today back in 2013. It’s a tale you won’t read anywhere else and one that tends to prompt many conversations. A recent check-in to this one-of-a-kind spot in the woods revealed that, while its inventory continues to diminish (especially after the harsh winter of 2019!), plenty of remnants still remain in Leadville’s Hoop Forest. So, read on and then feel free to join the conversation on any of LT’s social platforms. Maybe the mystery of how all those hoops got up there will finally be solved!
Secondly, last Friday, October 8, the Bureau of Land Management (the first, original, BLM) announced some re-districting news last Friday that will impact Lake County. The official statement can be found below along with the updated BLM District Map. Remember, nearly 75% of Lake County’s land is owned and operated by one of three federal agencies, and the BLM is one of them. It’s best to pay attention to what’s happening in the nearby woods when it comes to the BLM, the BOR or the USFS.
But more importantly, be sure to get out on your favorite trails, breathe in the woods and then, be sure to look up every once in a while – you never know what you may see!
The Hoopla in Leadville’s Woods
By Kathy Bedell, © Leadville Today
Look, up in the sky! Look, there, in those tree branches. What are those? And how did they get way up there?!
Welcome to the mystical Hoop Forest in Leadville, Colorado. Located just outside the city limits, in Lake County, this portion of the woods, where barrel rings seem to perform a high trapeze act in the lodgepole pine branches, has fondly been re-named “The Hoop Forest” by locals. And while it may not be a tourist attraction many residents would share with a visiting hiker, Leadville Today went out to investigate this unique, little-known place in the forest.
Back in the day, before ground transportation and overnight delivery, things were primarily transported to Leadville by rail. In fact, it was freight, not passengers that made the Leadville railroads money. And a lot of that freight was transported in wooden barrels. These watertight, keg-shaped containers were able to withstand the stress of traveling across the country by rail and could be easily rolled and stacked with little friction, once they reached their final destination.
Many times, folks think whiskey or wine when it comes to the wooden barrel. But, all sorts of foods and goods were stored and transported in these containers. Fish, meats, and some vegetables were dried and salted then stored and transported. Fragile items such as eggs would be packed in them among layers of straw to keep them cooler as well as to keep them from breaking.
And they were good at keeping out the vermin, which was important because the barrels were often buried in the ground, acting as refrigeration units. The barrels were often cut in half and “re-purposed,” serving as a cradle for a child, to feed or water livestock, or as a large mixing bowl for any number of reasons. Yep, it was a barrel bonanza back in the day.
But once a barrel had seen its last ride down the rails, and was no longer of use as a storage container, it was most likely taken apart, with any salvageable wood used for cooking or heating.
So whatever happened to the hoops, the rings that hold the wood together? Many of those old barrel rings were left behind, in stacks, piled high around what was then a fledging lodgepole pine, only three feet tall. It’s these series of trees huddled together in a small patch of woods on the edge of town that make up Leadville’s mystical Hoop Forest. Way up in the branches of 50-60 ft lodgepole pines are nearly 100 (and counting) old barrel hoops, clinging and swinging as if in some elaborate trapeze act. The rusty circular fasteners seem to blend into the dark branches of the pines. Others sit at the base of a centurion tree as if its trunk simply stepped into the center of the hoop just yesterday.
So how did those hoops get way up into the trees? And what about the ones lying on the forest floor encircling the trunk of a 60-foot pine tree?
Like most mysteries, there are a few theories. The first has a lot to do with location. The Hoop Forest sits on the edge of town, not too far from an old train stop where the barrels came off freight cars by the hundreds. Many of these barrels were unloaded right there at the scene rather than hauling the heavy containers into town. The goods unpacked from the barrels were then placed into the shop keep’s wagon and transported into Leadville. Like any shipping and receiving center, that part of the forest also became a “dump” for the containers of the day: wooden barrels with hoops. The good barrels were re-used, the broken containers, let to sit and rot in the woods.
Another theory is that the site is an old whiskey or brew operation. That would account for the sheer number of hoops still hanging in the trees, as it’s hard not to imagine there were hundreds if not thousands stored there at some point. Either guess is as good as the other because it’s really the “how” they got up – some nearly 50 feet off the ground – into the trees that provide the mystic.
Because when you look up, way up into the treetops and see the old rusty hoops, entangled in the centurion’s branches, you can imagine their journey. They started out resting on a small, low branch and began being lifted up by the growing tree, foot by foot, reaching higher up into the sky, year after year.
You imagine their long, cold winters, blowing about in the freezing weather. How many hoops started out on the journey? How made it through the winter, still intact in the boughs of those evergreens come springtime? Clearly, the hoop remnants on the forest floor are a testament that some may have fallen along the way, or perhaps never got to take flight in the first place. But the hoops that survived, the ones that that remain in the treetops, are a reminder of Leadville’s history and the folks (and hoops!) who made it!
All things considered, there’s really no better place for The Hoop Forest than in Leadville Today!
© Leadville Today Note: Where is the Hoop Forest? Well, if you don’t know, LT can’t tell you; sworn to secrecy. It was a requirement for this story. Some locals may be familiar with where this unique forest feature lives, but for others, the only clue LT can provide, is a quick video shot which may provide a hint – if you’re good at scenic bearings! If you have an interesting tale for Leadville Today to investigate, please feel free to email at: email@example.com.
BLM Re-Assigns Districts
In a media advisory distributed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on October 8, 2020, new district boundaries have been realigned in Colorado. For readers who may not know the BLM owns and manages a significant area of land in Lake County, even more so for its location than acreage. The following map outlines the new district boundaries as well as identify the BLM land most of which pushes to the shorelines of the Headwaters of the Arkansas River as well as Turquoise Lake, Lake Creek and finally a spattering in southern Lake County near Twin Lakes.
Here’s what federal officials are saying:
After robust outreach with its employees, local communities and government officials, Tribes, stakeholders, as well as Colorado’s congressional delegation, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) realigned its district boundaries in Colorado. The BLM now has four districts in Colorado – the Northwest Colorado District, Southwest Colorado District, Rocky Mountain District, and the newly formed Upper Colorado River District. This realignment effort will align the BLM Colorado’s fire units to improve public and wildland firefighter safety, as well as create more efficient, logical geographic, and geopolitical boundaries.
“After the last realignment effort in 2016, the BLM committed to conducting an evaluation to see how things were working and if any adjustments were needed,” said Colorado State Director Jamie Connell. “We did our evaluation, had strong dialogue with everyone affected by our new realignment, garnered resounding support and are now poised to better serve the public.”
The primary changes include:
- Establishment of the Upper Colorado River District, which comprises the Grand Junction and Colorado River Valley Field Offices with district headquarters collocated with the Grand Junction Field Office.
- Headquarters for the Northwest Colorado District, currently collocated with the Colorado River Valley Field Office, will move to the Little Snake Field Office in Craig. The Northwest Colorado District now comprises the Little Snake, White River and Kremmling Field Offices.
- The Gunnison Field Office moved from the Rocky Mountain District to the Southwest Colorado District, which will retain its purview over the Tres Rios and Uncompahgre Field Offices. District headquarters will remain collocated with the Uncompahgre Field Office in Montrose.
- The Rocky Mountain District now comprises the Royal Gorge and San Luis Valley Field Offices, with its headquarters remaining collocated with the Royal Gorge Field Office in Canon City. The BLM is now working to recruit and hire a new District Manager for the Upper Colorado River District. A total of two to three positions will be hired. The vacant Northwest Colorado District Manager and Associate District Manager will be filled as well.
New District Map BLM – Colorado
About the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land located primarily in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. In fiscal year 2018, the diverse activities authorized on BLM-managed lands generated $105 billion in economic output across the country. This economic activity supported 471 ,000 jobs and contributed substantial revenue to the U.S. Treasury and state governments, mostly through royalties on minerals.