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"Was I over my head? Oh yes, very much so. It was hard to be out of town and the family have to take over."

against flocked, scarlet-colored wallpaper in the study of Conifer resident Norm Meyer is a quote from Charles Lindbergh.

It rests near framed photos of Meyer as a young pilot who flew 35 years for Continental Airlines and begins with the words: "Science, freedom, beauty, adventure, what more could you ask of life? Aviation combined all the elements I loved …"

Yet that vision seems only partly true for Meyer, who lived his life as pilot and rancher—equal parts heaven and earth. For it was the earthbound portion that would secure his place in local history.

Meyer landed in Conifer in 1950 when he purchased the Midway House, a five-bedroom, two-story residence on the north end of Conifer that dated to 1889.

He found it on a road trip with his family, when his young daughter Cara, who was born prematurely and suffered the occasional fainting spell, prompted the family to pull into the Midway House driveway to tend to her. In front of them, on a post, was a small "for sale" sign.

The house had no plumbing, no electricity and no foundation—just a few rocks on the ground where Louis Ramboz had built the structure from the ground up 61 years earlier.

Among the seven other buildings on the property was a barn that predated the house by 19 years. It was a working ranch, 330 acres worth of sweeping meadow and picturesque rocky outcrops, promising Meyer and his family that they would labor hard to sustain it. Right away they added cattle, a garden and began growing grain.

Meyer's motivation to move from Denver to a tiny rural community involved his aviation career. Strict health codes for pilots that required physical examinations every six months worried the father of three, soon-to-be-four, children. He wanted a backup plan, one that would sustain his family if the other failed.

Raised on a cattle ranch near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Meyer had memories of that lifestyle which seemed a natural solution to his dilemma.

Thus, he purchased the ranch, and his wife, Ethel, a hard-working farm girl from Maine who had completed her teaching degree at the University of Denver, was willing to swap city life and conventional luxuries for an isolated existence.

Ethel steered the ranch when her husband donned a blue uniform and hit the skies on a pilot's revolving schedule. The children—Sharon, 6, Cara, 4, and an infant son, Norm Jr.—pitched in as they grew, along with a fourth child, Erik, born a couple of years after the family's arrival here.

Meyer's pass at a stable life was promising, except for the tremendous workload, complicated by a state regulation in those days that required the buyer of an estate—in this case, the $34,000 Midway House and land—to pay for it in full in just five years.

The family cut expenses to the bone; the kids' clothes were sometimes ragged, causing his oldest daughter, Sharon, to ask her mother one day:

"Are we the poorest people in the world?"

When the debt was settled, the family over time bought roughly 300 more acres near their home when estate sales turned up other land opportunities.

"I didn't set out to acquire those pieces; they just came up, and it seemed advisable to stir our butts and acquire them," Meyer remembers.

Those properties included land on both sides of the highway: a homestead, meadows and Legault Mountain—the latter considered worthless real estate to the business-savvy Ethel, who didn't see the value of owning a mountain. Prior to their arrival, before wartime gas rationing put a crimp in car travel to the area, there had been a ski slope on Legault that Denverites and locals reached on a horse-drawn sleigh.

In those days, Meyer's dichotomous spirit—his desire to touch both heaven and earth—was at odds.

"Was I over my head? Oh yes, very much so," Meyer said. "It was hard to be out of town and the family have to take over."

The slender Ethel, known to family and friends as "Blondie," delivered calves, chased off coyotes, sold hay and firewood, and dealt with the occasional tragedy, like the night when seven cows were struck by lightning during a storm.

The children, now in their 50s and 60s, remember those days, especially when Meyer prepared often to swap his tractor for a DC-3. Ten hours before Meyer left for the airport, the mood shifted in the household, Sharon and Cara recalled recently on a visit to their parents' home.

Their father's last-minute conversations revolved around lists: Would they remember to look after a sick cow? Would they remember to keep the gate closed (even though it had been three years since they last left it open)?

One hour before Meyer would leave, the house grew silent; orders came from Ethel, as Meyer shifted gears and made the final transition from ranch life to sky life beyond Conifer.

Adding to the family's tasks were Norm and Ethel's endeavors to remodel the house, which required removing the floorboards and exposing the earth below their feet. Many of the projects ultimately stretched out over 10 years: a stone-slab floor, expansive fireplaces, sturdy ceiling beams and mantels. The young Cara thought everybody lived like that, their homes in a state of constant construction, until she visited other children.

Sharon, the oldest child, embraced life on the ranch, along with the flying lessons she managed to coax from her father.

But Erik hated ranch life.

"Branding calves just traumatized me," he said of those days. "Cutting off horns, blood spurting, the calves screaming in pain—it was cruel and bizarre. I was 11 or 12 when I went to my mother and said, 'I can't do this anymore.' "

But childhood memories are also replete with dips in the family swimming pool, built as a precaution against wildland fires. Of morning-news radio with Alex Dryer or Walter Cronkite, as their mother braided the girls' hair, their bellies pressed against turquoise kitchen countertops. Of the boys playing war in a wheat-colored field, or counting the scarce number of cars from their bedroom window at night that crept by on U.S. 285—then only a two-lane.

There was a sense of belonging, Sharon remembers, of school bus rides with only eight kids, or horseback rides to Evergreen High School when she was older with a childhood friend.

Of buying candy at the only store nearby, a tiny structure positioned on a plot of land that would later become the Safeway Center, where Erik made his way past a stuffed three-legged chicken inside, to pick out a chocolate bar.

The family built the first library in town inside the milk house on their property. To keep it stocked, a neighbor made frequent trips to Golden, filling her car with new reading materials.

For years, friends and family converged on Meyer Ranch for Christmas tree cuttings, holiday caroling, wagon rides, baked beans and ham. Meyer joined the volunteer fire department, and both he and Ethel joined civic clubs and headed fundraisers.

Perhaps it was Meyer's dichotomous spirit that led him to become both keeper of open spaces and a developer.

Early on, he and Ethel developed Aspen Meadows, a subdivision on the south side of the highway, east of Elk Creek fire station No. 2. Homes were built on several-acre parcels, not small lots, keeping that part of the valley more open and attractive. Years later, they would sell a nice piece of land to Our Lady of the Pines Catholic Church for its expansion.

But when a realtor asked about the sweeping panoramas across from their home, including Legault Mountain, Meyer flinched at the idea of carving into them.

"If I am going to do anything with that, it would go to open space," he told her.

He then followed through. By the mid-1980s he had offered 400 acres to Jefferson County Open Space; when the deal closed, it became Meyer Ranch Open Space Park near South Turkey Creek Road and U.S. 285.

A few years later, he placed his home and most of the property surrounding it in a conservation easement. The house and 20 acres will remain with the family in perpetuity. They can live in it themselves, turn it into a museum or bed and breakfast.

"I get remarks all the time—people say they are happy we sold to Open Space. My wife isn't; she said we gave it away too cheap. But I'm happy," Meyer said.

That significant contribution sets the visual tone for Conifer to this day, marked by scarcely marred vistas and a historic yellow ranch house that adds a measure of character before southbound travelers reach the concentrated business areas strung sideways and narrow along the highway.

It was Norm Jr. who first suggested in the 1980s that they sell off 2 or 3 acres for commercial use at the west end of their property, near the Aspen Park business center. It seemed a reasonable plan, though the number of acres would rise to 12 and finally 29 to gain the interest of a large developer.

But there was no simple solution to the process—creating the largest commercial shopping center the community had seen at the time, at 179,000 square feet. As citizens opposed the plan, King Soopers showed considerable interest, eliciting excitement from other residents.

The project would go through three commercial developers before Hunt Properties finally saw it to fruition. It would involve several skilled planners.

Jefferson County Planning and Zoning required stringent designs—no more metal strip buildings, only tasteful structures with architectural accents that better complimented the landscape. It set a new standard for large developments to follow, and contributed to a more village-style element in Aspen Park and Conifer—even including a few acres of open space.

Costs to build the project soared, along with a required water district. It took roughly 16 years of planning and preparation before the Village at Conifer-Aspen Park took shape last November with the opening of King Soopers there.

One person early on who opposed the rezoning for commercial use was his own daughter, Sharon. In the middle of land use negotiations with the county, Sharon wrote a letter of opposition.

"I think it was kind of neat that she believed so strongly to protest our zoning—fortunately, they didn't listen," Meyer said.

But his view on the development vacillates from time to time noting that Conifer has grown and changed tremendously in the last few years, not necessarily for the better, by his assessment.

"We used to say we are not like Evergreen; we are country cousins here in Conifer," Meyer said. "I have contributed (to that growth) and am not proud of it, exactly."

There was no grand scheme on the part of the Meyer family to preserve an entire valley—or make commercial and residential contributions to the community, contributions that have embedded the family name on a road sign, an open space park and Meyer's own airstrip as it appears on aeronautical maps.

It just seemed to happen while life unfolded, while they were busy surviving, while the kids grew up, headed to college, started careers and families. Sharon and Cara, both of Boulder, became teachers and have two grown children each, though Sharon is now a Realtor. Erik, of Fort Collins, started the band Tropical Coyotes and travels frequently. Norm Jr., of Conifer, earned his license to fly before his license to drive. He became a motorcycle mechanic and earned a No. 1 racing title around the state for several years. The family has one great-granddaughter and another on the way.

Life might have turned out very different had Meyer pursued his journalism degree. But after graduating from CU-Boulder, he got cold feet, trading his schoolbooks and life in a newsroom for flying lessons.

At 89, Meyer is "older than God's dog." Yet he is still a member of more than 20 civic or preservation groups and environmental and aeronautical organizations, and he still flies his Cessna 180. Ethel, also 89, is now largely inactive, though her pretty face lights up easily when recalling memories of the past.

The two blend quietly into the community woodwork—a fellowship of fresh new faces eager to shake things up and old-timers who have already contributed their fair share to Conifer's history.

"I've said when I die, I don't want a funeral; I am a hopeless heathen," Meyer said. He will consider a tent in the yard, where friends can reminisce before scattering his ashes across a big flat rock in a meadow near his airstrip.

"My friends can come and have a drink on me and hopefully they will say, 'He wasn't such a bad old bastard.' "






























































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