Landowner Profile: Terry Peavler of Los Pinos Ranch
by Kim Marquis
Terry Peavler was only three years old in 1946 when his family moved to their Los Pinos Ranch at the toe of Mount Yale, just outside of Buena Vista. By age six he had his own horse, which he had to climb a fence to get on. His first saddle came at age ten, but by then Peavler had been driving the family’s team for years. He fondly remembers hearing the chug … chug … chug of the Denver & Rio Grande steam trains at the downtown depot, gearing up for their climb to Leadville.
The 367-acre ranch had originally been a major head lettuce farm. Small irrigation ditches and wooden sign- posts still dot the property—proof of the Buena Kist lettuce grown there. The land straddles North Cottonwood Creek for a mile, and includes reaches of both Mercury and Red Deer Creeks.
His parents, William and Louise Peavler, were teachers with the Buena Vista School District, back when Main Street still ran muddy with spring runoff and horses waited near hitching posts in front of The Lariat bar. After a long career in academia, Peavler moved back to the Arkansas River Valley and lives on a piece of the very land where he grew up. Sitting on his back porch, the Collegiate Peaks spread out from left to right across a field of swaying grass, Peavler remembers his formative years well.
“We did everything with horses then,” he says. “I know how to stack loose hay and I drove a team from the time I was four. In that regard, it was like growing up fifty to seventy-five years earlier.”
The family operated a guest and dude ranch, ran cattle, and produced dairy and poultry products. They sold beef, milk, eggs and fryers, and also raised turkeys to sell each November. A huge garden produced their vegetables, which they canned for winter. Terry raised sheep and his brother raised hogs for 4-H projects. Yet the family had no electricity and no running water in their first years on the ranch. They built a roaring fire in the back yard and put a washtub on it to clean their clothes.
“It was more fun in retrospect,” he says, “than it was at the time. I remember having to go to the outhouse in the middle of the night, and it wasn’t that much fun.”
After earning a scholarship and leaving Buena Vista for college in 1960, Peavler soon learned he had a propensity for languages and literature. He earned a doctorate degree in comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley, then became a member of the faculty at Penn State for three decades, retiring after stints as an associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and head of the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.
Busy with his career, he returned to the Arkansas River Valley only rarely for twenty years. In 1980, he and his brother, Jim Peavler, acquired parts of the ranch from their mother. Terry Peavler married his second wife, Buena Vista local Linda Deniston, in 1982, and the couple agreed they would some day retire on the ranch. They spent a year contemplating where to put the house before they built it by hand together.
Peavler’s lessons in conservation were subtle at the start. His mother would say, “Oh, they’re putting up an- other house over there,” when he was a kid, germinating the idea that more people and development weren’t necessarily a good thing.
“I always had the vision of putting the property into a conservation easement, ” he says. “Now that it’ s protected, this is one section of the valley that’s not going to be developed. ”
But a desire to keep the land from developers is not the only reason Peavler chose to place 120 acres under a conservation easement with the Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas.
Around the late 1950s, a small herd of American elk began showing up in the Valley, using the ranch and surrounding private properties to travel from the Sawatch Range into the flatlands closer to town. The herd, which today is close to one hundred head in size, also traverses the properties north and south to reach winter grazing habitat north of Buena Vista.
“People will pay a lot of money to own a piece of this land,” Peavler says, “but housing developments and streets and fencing would have driven the elk out.”
Peavler’s conservation efforts set an example that was followed first by his brother and then by additional neighbors, so that today about 400 adjoining acres are protected through the Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas. The elk are afforded free roam on all four points of a compass, as are mule deer, black bear, and bobcats, as well as more than one hundred species of birds, including bald eagles, great horned owls, and goshawks.
Peavler’s land is enclosed by elk-friendly fencing. He irrigates a pasture for the herd and patrols the property with an all-terrain vehicle. He knows people would like to have access, but grants that to very few.
“People say I’m not letting them enjoy it. But I am,” he says.
Every autumn, vehicles line the sides of county roads abutting the property. Crowds stand by, holding binoculars and setting high-powered cameras on tripods. They are intent to see magnificent elk migrate through the ranches. The herd can put on quite a show. The males during the annual rut crash their huge antlers together in spectacular challenges for the cows, and sometimes the females stand on their hind legs “like kangaroos” and kick at each other, Peavler says.
Viewing has become an annual event for visitors and locals alike. As long as photographers don’t approach or disturb the animals, Peavler doesn’t mind all the activity.
“That’s part of the fun of having the elk herd,” he says.