Adventurer/preservationist Loey Ringquist describes the love-at-first-sight that led to her purchase of Wilson Mesa's Faraway Ranch more than a quarter-century ago.
San Miguel County resident Lois "Loey" Ringquist, 88, died Sunday, Oct. 1, at her home near Norwood.
Ringquist and her twin sister, Louise "Weezy" Ringquist, were born June 27, 1918, in Westminster, Mass. Twelve years later, they traveled by boat through the Panama Canal to Yosemite where their mother, Louise Handel Ringquist, had found work as a nurse. Their father, Alvin Otto Ringquist, soon joined them, working with the Civil Conservation Corps training young men to be mechanics.
Growing up, Ringquist worked as a babysitter for Ansel Adams's two small children. "A little bit rubbed off," she would say of those days, which undoubtedly had a hand in steering Ringquist into a subsequent career as a photographer for whom skiing and mountaineering would be lifelong passions.
In 1942, Ringquist joined the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, working as a company photographer. Two high point in those years came when she photographed First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on a visit to the WAAC headquarters, and then photographed 1952 Nobel prizewinner Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
After the war, Ringquist, who fell in love with the Rocky Mountains through a train window, settled in Aspen, where "she did all sorts of things," says Lori Gerdts, Ringquist's niece, from guiding jeep tours and horseback rides to photography to pay the bills while living on the small Snowmass Ranch she named Faraway.
In 1969, Ringquist moved again, this time to San Miguel County, where, by trading her Snowmass Faraway Ranch (and the 1888 log cabin she called home), she was able to buy the 960-acre parcel of land on Wilson Mesa she would once again name Faraway.
Of that trade, she would say later, "It took five lawyers, five pieces of land, and 13 people.
"We finished New Year's Eve, 1969," Ringquist said of the land trade that left her with the Wilson Mesa property that she also named Faraway, and land in Norwood.
Again Ringquist's extended family her parents and her twin, then married to Joern Gerdts came together.
"Loey, Louise and Joern were the ultimate preservationists," says Lori Gerdts. "They were the first ones to realize that you had to take care of the land, and not abuse it."
Ringquist maintained Faraway Ranch as a working ranch until Jan. 21, 1995, when she sold it to the Faraway Foundation, with the following mission statement:
"The mission of Faraway Foundation is twofold: 1) to oversee the use of Faraway Ranch for public benefit through the creation of an educational retreat center and a model residential community, both of which demonstrate an ecologically sound relationship between humans and the environment; and 2) to preserve a majority of Faraway Ranch as undeveloped open space, as a critical wildlife corridor to the adjacent wilderness area, and for agricultural and recreation use, while maintaining its scenic qualities.
"The learning center will offer educational experiences that teach skills for meeting the social, economic and environmental challenges in our world today. An objective of these experiences is to encourage people to actively participate in creating a better future for themselves, their community, and the larger social world.
"The residential community will serve as a living laboratory that promotes, on a village scale, the sustainable use of resources, appropriate technology and renewable energy, and will be based upon the principles of cooperation, healthy conflict resolution, and the celebration of diversity."
"The one thing Loey has said about the ranch is that she doesn't own it," Faraway Foundation President Betsy McKinney said at the time of the $1.35 million transaction, after smudging the newly signed paperwork with Faraway dirt. "She has felt it's her responsibility to look after it, to take care of it for the public, not just herself," McKinney said, emphasizing that "less than 100 acres [would] be developed, plus, a minimum of 400 acres [would] be preserved as permanent wilderness area that is adjacent to National Forest land.
"Any kind of development," McKinney explained at the signing ceremony, "has to do with supporting the retreat center. There's nothing being offered to the general public."
For Ringquist, handing over the reins to the Faraway Foundation meant the property would remain predominantly open space, well-used as a public retreat, where her (and the Faraway Foundation's) lofty goals of creating everything from Alpine Ecosystems Preservation and Restoration programs to Alternative Living in Technology programs (focusing on everything from medicinal and herbal plants to solar home design and building) to Personal Growth and Spiritual Development Programs would take root.
That transition, like that of the Snowmass Faraway's earlier, was complex, according to attorney John Steel, taking "over two years to work out the planning and to get the project structured the way it should be. We were always balancing the complexities…of the ethical and moral considerations on land use."
Today, a trimmed-down version of Faraway Ranch 665 acres offering a "unique combination of privacy, proximity to Telluride and access to the pristine wilderness of the Rockies" and a "108-acre north parcel also available for purchase" is on the market. A brochure listing the property at $13,300,000 reads: "Situated at the base of majestic Wilson Peak," the ranch "borders Lizard Head Wilderness, a 40,000-acre federally protected remote area," with "water rights, seasonal ponds and streams," as well as "over five miles of biking, horseback and Nordic trails."
Proceeds from the sale will be converted into a Faraway Foundation endowment to be managed by boardmembers John McKinney, Betsy McKinney and Ulli Sir Jesse.
"Loey was a champion and supporter of the Native Voices Foundation's ski program in Telluride," says Olympic champion Suzy Chaffee, co-founder of Native Voices Foundation, "which now leads the way to Native Americans having their own teams in the China and Vancouver Olympics," with Olympian Billy Kidd as the captain.
A Celebration of Loey Ringquist's life will be held Sunday, Oct. 7, at her ranch near Norwood, from 2-5 p.m., to which all are invited. To get there, turn right at the veterinarian's office on main street, and follow 43ZN Road all the way to the end. For more information, call Lori Gerdts at 369-4827. Ringquist is survived by her niece, Stefanie Gerdts, and nephew, Chris Gerdts, and his wife, Lori; and by three grandnephews, Zak, Nik and Kuzi. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Crippin Funeral Home in Montrose.