This November, Fraser voters will be presented with the question of whether to annex into the town a 295-acre parcel of land and its future development south of Mill Avenue and west of the railroad tracks.
But one thing Fraser voters won’t have to decide, according to one landowner, is if former president Eisenhower’s vacation spot west of the development will be preserved.
Dennis Saffell, a Fraser Valley resident and owner and broker of Coldwell Banker, along with another unnamed partner, have purchased the property directly to the west of the proposed Byers Peak development and plan to preserve and restore the once favorite vacation site of the former president.
Saffell and his partner have already invested more than $2.2 million into the property. Driving through, one can see the cabins where Eisenhower stayed during his famed visits to the Fraser Valley. Cattle still graze on the ranchland.
The cabins sit south of St. Louis Creek and are testament to a simpler time in the Fraser Valley, evidenced by simple construction and the small size of the cabins that housed such a popular president. The interiors of the cabins still contain much of the old furniture and décor that fit well within the modest structures.
The former president, an artist as well as a leader of the free world, used to paint Christmas card that would be given to White House staff and diplomatic leaders. In 1955, in his third year as president, he painted a portrait of the landscape near the cabins, and titled it “St. Louis Creek, Byers Peak Ranch.”
While working on the Presidential Christmas card, Eisenhower suffered a heart attack and was rushed to a Denver hospital, where he finished his work while recovering in his hospital bed.
A black and white video shot of the cabins during Eisenhower’s first campaign for president shows Eisenhower instructing his running partner and future president Nixon on the finer points of fly fishing as the inexperienced Nixon ducks and dodges away from the casts of the president.
The cabins are where Eisenhower and his staff would stay while the famed president fished and recreated in the valley. While the cabins are still standing and hold a number of treasures from the past, they have fallen into disrepair and are currently not open to the public.
Vow to preserve
“The buildings are not going to be torn down,” Saffell said. “We plan to restore the cabins and, at some point, open them to the public.”
Saffell even discussed the possibility of him and his partner constructing trails through the property that would connect with the Chainsaw and Zoom trails, two popular hiking trails west of the property that are heavily used during the summer and winter months.
Saffell and his partner are not ruling out some form of development on the property in the future, Saffell said, however they plan to preserve the historic cabins. “Our plan is development with a conscience — or no development,” he said.
They also plan to keep the property as a working ranch to preserve the long history of the area.
Saffell said his partner comes from a development background and has purchased pieces of property around the state in order to protect the areas with a conservation mind-set.
His partner is interested in not only preserving the cabins, but also in protecting the riparian zone found on the property, Saffell said.
A riparian zone is the interface between drier land and a stream or river, in this case, the banks of St. Louis Creek and the wetlands that extend from the banks of the creek. The riparian zone is significant due to the diversity of plants found there and the animals that utilize the area, such as moose and elk. It also impacts the aquatic ecosystem of St. Louis Creek and downstream where the stream flows into the Fraser River.
The riparian zone is obvious as you pass the property on County Road 73 heading west and is on the left side of the road.
The property was one of the many areas affected by the bark-beetle infestation and currently resembles a battle zone with remnants of downed trees and fences due to dead-tree clearing. Most of the downed trees have been removed or burned, leaving a sparse landscape with small saplings beginning to sprout through the once forested ground.
Saffell and his partner plan to reclaim and reseed the area to bring it back to its former glory, as part of preserving and protecting the “Eisenhower Experience.”
“What will we do with the rest of the ranch?” Saffell said. “The right thing.”
Reid Tulley can be reached at 970-887-3334