Five years after Carol Bell was originally assigned to a position at the Holzwarth Historic Site, she still finds herself working here, and returning happily season after season. In her words, she simply "fell in love" with the site. This group of volunteers shares that sentiment, and after spending a few hours watching them in their element it was easy to see why they find it to be so great. Working in a place where visitors get to try on a buffalo skin coat, wander through a historic kitchen complete with a Prohibition-era still, and witness a one-of-a-kind footstool made with deer hooves has got to be entertaining.
All of the volunteers at Holzwarth share the responsibilities involved, including cleaning the site in the morning before visitors arrive, giving tours of the historic 1920s Mama Cabin home, answering visitors' questions, and making sure that everyone stays safe as they walk through the area. I was impressed by the fluidity of this group, which was quickly explained to me by the fact that they have been working together, every Thursday, for the past five seasons
Ray and Diane Phillips, who have been volunteering at Holzwarth for an incredible 21 years, both used to teach in Denver. Diane said that this experience has given her the patience to work with families and little kids as they pass through the site. I asked Ray what he perceives to be the biggest change that he's witnessed over the past two decades, and he responded that the increase in the number of visitors (Holzwarth has had an average of over 200 per day this month!), and international visitors in particular, has been the most striking transformation. Ray goes above and beyond in his duties at the site, as he transports all of the artifacts to and from Holzwarth for storage in Estes Park each winter.
The increasing interest shown by international visitors was a topic I also discussed with Jean Cross. She expressed her joy at the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world. As an illustration of this facet of the job, one of the tours she gave while I was there included people from seven different countries. Although everything may not be understood word-for-word, Jean said that in most instances the concepts discussed at Holzwarth have the ability to overcome lingual or cultural barriers.
After touring the Mama Cabin with Jeff Bonds as my guide, I asked him what his favorite part about the job is, and he countered my use of that term, telling me that "…they say we come up and here and work, but it's not working." Jeff's favorite memory from his time here was giving a tour to a family that included four young boys, an age group whose attention span can be difficult to hold. Jeff was excited to see them so absorbed in the site and to witness their connection to the historic home.
As I was leaving Holzwarth, I asked a few of the volunteers to share with me what they perceive to be the central takeaway message for visitors. Jeff wants visitors to "appreciate what you've got by understanding how tough life had to be for these people." Vicki Penwell shared her insight as well: "sometimes circumstances in life force you to begin again, but it can be inspirational. The Holzwarth site is a story of generosity." Vicki used to work for the Park Service in Alaska, and after four years away, she has returned as a volunteer who roves and works in different areas on the West Side. She told me, "I had forgotten how much I loved my work with the Park Service," a feeling tangibly shared amongst this group of incredible volunteers
Last updated: August 15, 2014