Frosty Roe is the pied piper of land conservation in northern Chaffee County
By Kim Marquis
“You want to split the west forty?”
That simple question from one rural neighbor to another eventually led to the protection of nearly 400 acres north of Buena Vista near the Heckendorf State Wildlife Area.
The area serves as important winter habitat for hundreds of elk that come down out of the forests in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area to forage during deep-snow winters.
It’s hard to say which life experience led Frosty Roe toward land conservation. But he eventually became a pied piper of sorts, leading the way for elk to continue to use the land in northern Chaffee County for their winter migrations.
As a child, Frosty’s family was one of only two that lived on the 1,100-acre camp that is known today as Adventure Unlimited. His father — a hearing aid and answering machine salesman in Ohio — uprooted the family and moved to the camp after accepting a maintenance job only six weeks after a vacation to the Arkansas River Valley.
The year was 1965. Frosty, only 9 years old, had his run of the camp and remembers riding his Stingray across the high mountain prairie’s dirt roads to watch the elk bugle during the rut. He earned his first hunter safety card only a few years later.
Frosty graduated from Buena Vista High School and left the Arkansas River Valley to attend the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y. He graduated with highest honors in 1978 and spent 23 years as a deck officer traveling the globe.
Yet even that experience eventually led to land conservation back home. As a Merchant Marine, he would often end a shift from his post on the ship and pop a beer under the darkest, most star-filled skies that stretched out over the earth’s blackest seas. “I know what the sky is supposed to look like,” he says.
While protecting the elk winter range was important, and keeping residential development away from them and his own home were important, so was maintaining a dark sky around his home. “Fifty years ago, other than Sky Valley and Roundup ranches, there were no homes west of 361 north of the North Cottonwood Creek turnoff.,” he says. But houses cropped up over the years, including one dense subdivision down the way. Standing on the corner of his property on a recent windless winter day, he points out three new residences that rose up on the flat horizon in only three months.