When Bob Regulski first started visiting the area 30 years ago, he fell in love with it. Now he owns one of the landmark properties upriver — the Sleepy Cat Lodge.
“There was a connection there,” Regulski said of his first visit to the White River National Forest. “I was always in love with Sleepy Cat.”
Sleepy Cat Guest Ranch was opened in the 1940s and for 40 years (from 1962 to 2002) was owned and operated by the Wix family, who then sold it to Rich and Ellen Dawe.
“I had been looking for a piece of property (upriver),” Regulski said. “I’ve always loved this valley. I came close to buying a few places … I came up to Sleepy Cat one time and saw a sign on the Chambers place that bordered the west end of Sleepy Cat. So I purchased the Chambers property, and I lived next door to Sleepy Cat.
“I spent a year redoing the Chambers place, and I got to know the owners of Sleepy Cat (the Dawes). They had mentioned that they wanted to sell Sleepy Cat. So, lo and behold, I ended up buying it. I traded them the Chambers place for Sleepy Cat, plus some cash as well,” Regulski said. “You have to watch what you wish for, but I think it’s worked out great.”
Since then, Regulski has devoted his time to fixing up the property.
“The place was so in need of fixing up. It had really gone down hill the last couple of years. I’ve worked on the grounds pretty extensively. I do most of the work myself. I do have a black Lab to help me out once in awhile,” he joked.
Regulski grew up in New Jersey, but has made Colorado his home since the early 1970s. He started Mellow Yellow Taxi Service in Aspen, which he said “was a phenomenal success.” He went on to be involved in various commercial and riverfront developments.
“Basically, what I do is fix things up and either sell them or whatever. I’ve done a lot of historical restoration of buildings,” Regulski said. “When I do a project, I usually do it myself and it takes me years to do it. (When you do it yourself), you have a really good feel for the project and what’s right and what’s wrong. I’ve got about another year to go (on the Sleepy Cat project) to get it done, done. This means a lot to me. I work really hard at it.”
Besides cleaning up the place, Regulski has removed most of the cabins from the property.
“It just wasn’t right to put people in those buildings,” he said. “The only cabin I have left is a newer one and it sleeps eight. Things had started falling into disrepair. I think people will be pleasantly surprised when it’s done, and I think people will appreciate the cleaning up. It will be something when it’s done.”
For years, Sleepy Cat offered not only lodging for hunters, snowmobilers and tourists, but it was a popular upriver restaurant.
“Everyone used to come over here, to Sleepy Cat,” Regulski said. “It was a pretty cool place. But you can’t turn back the clock.”
Regulski said he hasn’t decided if he will reopen Sleepy Cat to the public, but he appreciates the history of the place and what it means to the locals.
“The Wix are a great family, but to run a restaurant and a lodging facility, especially log cabins, it’s hard to make it happen,” he said. “I don’t think to do a restaurant seven days a week is feasible, but I think you could do benefits, weddings, family reunions … because this is a very special place.”
While there is more work to be done, and he hasn’t decided about the future use of the property, in the meantime Regulski will continue to make Sleepy Cat his home.
“It’s been a fun project,” he said. “It’s more a labor of love than anything else. You don’t do projects like this for money. You do it from the heart. If you put all your heart and passion in it, it usually works out.”
For the holidays, Regulski decorated a blue spruce that stands in front of Sleepy Cat. He estimated there are between 5,000 and 6,000 lights on the tree, which stands 50 to 60 feet in the air.
“I used a lift to get up there, and I made a four-foot star out of steel,” Regulski said. “Laura Pessel helped with the tree. She even got seasick from being on the lift so long. It’ll probably be lit up for the next week or so, until after the holidays.”
Steve Wix was 8 years old when his parents — Clark and Charlotte — bought Sleepy Cat.
“I grew up there,” Steve said. “It had gone bankrupt three times before dad bought it. It took quite a few years to build it up. Dad really pinched pennies. But it became world famous, really.”
Steve, who owns Backcountry Realty in Meeker, said he is often asked whether the family will ever buy back the property.
“They always ask us, ‘When are you going to get that place back?’” Steve said. “We’re not getting it back. People really miss it, and we do, too. But it never really made a lot of money. Plus, there are four of us kids, and it got to be too many chiefs. It’s nice now, because we’re friends again. Back then, we started hating each other.”
Steve and his wife, Debby, leased the business from the family and ran it for six years, from 1991 through 1996. The other siblings — Steve’s older sisters Lisa and Kim and younger brother John — took their turns at running Sleepy Cat as well.
“We all took our turns, but everybody would get burned out on it. There was never enough time and money to do it. It’s hard on you, physically and mentally. But, boy, we made a lot of friends from everywhere,” Steve said.
Which made it difficult to part with the property.
“It was a hard decision to sell,” Steve said. “But we all grew up and mom and dad got too old.”
Steve said he hasn’t been back to Sleepy Cat since Bob Regulski purchased the property in 2008.
“Bob’s a great guy, and he’s made it more pristine,” Steve said. “He’s torn down all the cabins, which is a shame, but they were old. It’s his place; he can do what he wants.”
Through their hard work, Steve’s parents — his father passed away three years ago — made Sleepy Cat into a popular upriver destination with a world-class reputation.
“He and mom did most of the work. There were four of us kids, so dad didn’t have to hire much help. We did all the jobs,” Steve said. “He always said we’re too far out of town to serve bad meals or have bad service. He always stressed we had to keep the people happy.”
In its heyday, Sleepy Cat was really something, Steve said.
“Clark and Charlotte … they were fixtures,” Steve said of his parents. “Mom tended bar and greeted customers for years. Everybody loved her. A lot of hunters would come back every year. It was like a big family. It was a great place.”
Meeker’s Dave and Enid Steffen closed the doors to The Bakery on Christmas Eve Day, after nearly 30 years in business.
The closing of The Bakery generated several comments posted on the Herald Times Facebook page.
Here’s a sampling …
Brice Glasscock: “We will miss The Bakery for sure!”
Jill Norcross Dunbar: “I will miss their biscuits and gravy and blueberry doughnuts on Fridays. Of course, it is hard to pin down one favorite item when everything on the menu is baked with love.”
Laura Douglas: “Yeah, blueberry doughnuts!”
Jolene Teeters: “I’ll miss the cinnamon knots that were just like the ones Mrs. Mobley used to bake on Fridays at the school lunch.”
Iris Redcliff: “I thought that was the ONLY place to eat? Now where do people go for good food?”
Anthony Mazzola: “I will miss their bread the most. It was the best!”
Melissa Gilbert: “I’ll miss the sausage wraps … so sad, but understandable why they are closing … hopefully somebody does a good thing with it and makes it half as good.”
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I received a follow-up message from Reed Kelley, who continues to try to teach me a thing or two about government.
“I appreciated your weekly column tale of our brief alley encounter regarding Colorado’s congressional delegation. It is apparent, however, that I should have spent a bit more time with you. First, you didn’t include the correction of ‘Colorado Senator John Salazar’ to U.S. Rep. John Salazar or Congressman John Salazar, who does, in fact, represent Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.
“Second, your column comments somewhat worsened the situation, stating that I had indicated to you that ‘each state only has two senators.’ You see, Jeff, Colorado actually has 35 senators — state senators — who serve in the Colorado State Senate in Denver. As established in Article I, Section 3 of our U.S. Constitution, however, each state elects only two U.S. senators, who serve in Washington, D.C. Currently, Colorado’s U.S. senators are Mark Udall and Michael Bennet.
“The districts of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are apportioned by population with each congressional district, as of the 2000 Census, being comprised of approximately 650,000 people. Colorado currently has seven U.S. House (a.k.a. congressional) districts. The Colorado 3rd Congressional District is composed of most of the Western Slope and south-central Colorado (encompassing 29 counties).
“All of this was in response to your reference to ‘all three Colorado U.S. Senators’ in the article about Nate Bradfield’s congressional nomination to the U.S Air Force Academy. In the process of composing this reply, I have discovered that each member of Congress is entitled to nominate 10 students for each of the four military academies — Nate is one of 10 nominated by Congressman Salazar for the Air Force from across the 29 counties he represents. Way to go, Nate, his parents, his teachers and our community!”
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For Christmas, Angie Arnold of Meeker Video gave me a bag of homemade dog treats for my dog. I must say, the treats looked good enough to eat.
I wonder if my dog would share?
Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.