RidgeGate Up Close - Elizabeth Matthews, Schweiger Ranch Foundation
Elizabeth Matthews, Executive Director, Schweiger Ranch Foundation
“RidgeGate Up Close” is our series of interviews of the people who make RidgeGate great, inspired by the wonderful blog and Facebook page Humans of New York. From residents to workers and local leaders, the people who live and work here in RidgeGate have incredible stories, just a scratch beneath the surface. Know someone who would make a great interviewee? Contact us at email@example.com.
A big thank you to Sarah Neumann Photography for conducting and photographing our RidgeGate Up Close interviews! This month: Elizabeth Matthews, Executive Director of the Schweiger Ranch Foundation. Schweiger Ranch is the historic, protected ranch property on the east side of RidgeGate, originally founded by the Austrian Schweiger brothers in 1874. The nonprofit Schweiger Ranch Foundation acts as the stewards for this important cultural resource and piece of living history in Douglas County.
From soup to nuts, Elizabeth Matthews activates, promotes and improves the historic Schweiger Ranch. As Executive Director of the Schweiger Ranch Foundation, she is helping keep the property a free resource for all to enjoy, while expanding its visibility and relevance to the area. She spoke with us about new and upcoming events and the expansion of a trail system that will link the ranch to miles and miles of recreational activities.
#1. Let’s cover the basics first. What is Schweiger Ranch?
Elizabeth: “Schweiger Ranch is a late 1800s historic ranch that is, essentially, the start of the RidgeGate story. John, Joseph and Jacob Schweiger emigrated from Austria and homesteaded the original 38 acres. Coventry Development, the developer of the area we know as “RidgeGate” today, worked with the Schweiger Ranch Foundation to preserve the buildings and create what is envisioned to be a living history museum.”
#2. I understand the foundation received an award from History Colorado this year for excellence in historic preservation?
Elizabeth: “We did. It’s called the Stephen H. Hart Award and is awarded by History Colorado. The award is for excellence in historic preservation and it’s a big deal! Stephen H. Hart was Colorado’s first State Historic Preservation Officer.”
#3. Tell me more about why you pour so much effort in to preserving a place like this?
Elizabeth: “Because it’s unique. It’s the only historic ranch in Lone Tree. If you think about it, the closest historic ranch is the 17 Mile House. It’s operated by Arapahoe County. You have Cherokee Ranch in Castle Rock, but their story is really of a different time period. And then you have Lowell Ranch, also in Castle Rock. Schweiger Ranch is a very unique piece of history that is sitting right next to a highway, right next to an interchange. I see that as an opportunity to bring people in from Denver who wouldn’t be able to experience the ranch otherwise. Soon, people will even be able to take the light rail right to Schweiger Ranch!”
#4. A property like this requires a lot of work, doesn’t it? Who is responsible for that?Elizabeth: “We have caretakers. It’s important to have eyes on the ranch, maintenance-wise and security-wise. Currently, we have a young couple that live here on the second floor of the house and they monitor the property and take care of the chickens. It’s an adventure. Anybody who has ever lived here can tell you it’s an adventure!”
#5. So the ranch also has residents of the “fowl” variety?
“Yep, we have chickens and there’s a chicken coop. Right now we have nine hens, a rooster and a peacock named Peter! I think I’ve learned way more than I ever wanted to learn about chickens and peacocks. We would love to have more animals out here, but that requires volunteers. We have a very small, limited operations budget and as much as we go out and fundraise for programming, we still need people who are willing to volunteer their time. We would like to keep the ranch free to the public which means we have to keep our operating budget small.”
#6. What kinds of ways can people volunteer to support the Ranch?
Elizabeth: “We definitely need volunteers for our events, which are really fun. If anyone is interested they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
#7. Tell us more about the types of events hosted by Schweiger Ranch…
Elizabeth: “We have the Lone Tree Fall Festival on October 7th from 10am until 2pm. You can pick a pumpkin and decorate it, take a horse-drawn wagon ride, visit the petting zoo…it’s lots of fun. We also have a new event this year taking place on December 2nd: called the Schweiger Ranch Austrian Christmas. We’ll have Santa and reindeer. We’ll have traditional Austrian food and beverages. We’ll have a Christmas tree lighting. We’ll have Austrian entertainment. Again, all of this is to celebrate the Austrian heritage of the Schweiger family. This will also be the first year that we’re lighting up the entire ranch for the holidays. We’re putting holiday lights on the house, barn, stable, loafing shed, tractor shed and windmill so people can come see the ranch all lit up!”
#8. All the events that take place at Schweiger Ranch are free to the community?
Elizabeth: “Yes, we’re trying to make this a free resource for the entire community. We’re open every Saturday and Sunday from 1-5, except for major holidays. We want people to learn about what it was like to be on a ranch in the late 1800s. Ultimately, I want to be able to take someone like my nephew, who is 7 years old and sits on an iPad and on a computer all day…I want to be able to bring him out here and say, ‘Guess what? There is no Wi-Fi here!’”
#9. Schweiger Ranch is open to the public on weekends from 1pm to 5pm. What can people expect if they come to check it out?
Elizabeth: “On Saturdays and Sundays, you can do a self-guided tour. You come in, park, and there are interpretive panels that you can read all around the property. We did three formal guided tours this year with RidgeGate and those were really successful. You can always find a list of upcoming tours and events on our website, www.schweigerranch.org.”
#10. If Schweiger Ranch is a historic property, does that mean this area can never be developed like the rest of RidgeGate?
Elizabeth: “So, the original 38 acres was donated by RidgeGate Investments in 2008 to the Schweiger Ranch Foundation, and no development can occur on the five acres on which the buildings sit. Now, the original 38 acres cannot be developed for housing, or commercial or things like that, but we are really excited to be working with Tall Tales Ranch just to the north of here to create a unique living facility for young adults and adults with developmental disabilities. Tall Tales Ranch will be a place where they can live and work independently in a secure, ranch-like setting while learning important life skills.”
#11. In addition to your new events and décor, the expansion of the East-West Regional Trail system is going to have a big impact on the ranch as well, right?
Elizabeth: “Definitely. Douglas County is in the process of expanding the East-West Trail that is going to connect the Bluffs Trail on the west side of the highway eventually all the way east to the Cherry Creek Trail. There will be a leg off the main trail that comes over to Schweiger Ranch, and our parking lot will become a trailhead. It’s really exciting, because it will bring a whole new level of event programming opportunities to us when we can offer nature hikes. We obviously have snakes and coyotes and fox and rabbits, but we also have deer and antelope and other visitors. There’s a lot of flora and fauna around. There’s so much to see and learn about out here.”