In remembrance of Peter Howell

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By Hank Alderfer

Along the north boundary of Mountain Park Homes, a lone chimney still stands below the granite cliffs. It is a fireplace that, for many, marks some of the mystery that was born to a subdivision whose small lots were designed for tents and one-room cabins.

For the volunteers of the Evergreen Fire Department, who answered a department call on March 30, 1979, the chimney carries the memories of the tragic death of Peter Vail Howell. A large circle of Pete’s friends keeps the stone chimney as a memorial to one of the most remarkable characters we ever met.
When the call for firefighters went out at 12:45, Pete’s cabin was fully engulfed with flames. Upon their arrival at the end of Wild Flower Trail, the department found that the access to the cabin was a 600-foot trail up a steep hill. Water and hoses had to be backpacked up and around the boulders of Peter’s hillside. The remains of Peter Howell were discovered by 1:30.
I met Peter the first week of August in 1969, after graduation from Claremont Men’s College, returning to work my family ranch and to be a plumber for the summer for Don Almquist. Peter, after attending Friends Central, a Quaker high school in Philadelphia, and Wesleyan College in Connecticut, worked with VISTA in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. In 1969, he was serving as a conscientious objector at Colorado General Hospital.
In June of ’69 I joined the Naval Flight Program and was to report to the flight base in Pensacola, Fla., in mid-August. About this time a young couple, Ron and Jan Darling, who ran a leather shop near the University of Denver, had started to board their horse at the ranch and hitched a ride with Pete to the ranch to visit their horse. The vehicle of Pete’s choice, and his part-time home, was a remodeled mail van complete with painted flowers and a canopy for a skylight. When Pete in his “Gypsy Van” parked in front of the ranch house, he’d captured my father’s curiosity, but it was his Custer-like shoulder-length hair that prompted EJ to tell me to “go check this fella out.” By the time this fellow and I had sat on the fence chatting for an hour or so, Dad was believing that Evergreen’s first hippy had landed.
This event should not be confused with the arrival of Brooks Morris, who may well have been Evergreen’s first Beatnik. Peter, over the next three years, became close friends with Dad, as Brooks had earlier.
When Peter drove away from the ranch that afternoon, he was starting a journey back East to a concert to be held at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, N.Y. He made the trip to Woodstock by Aug. 15 and included days of cleanup. While my heart wanted to join Peter in experiencing Woodstock, I had a prior appointment to honor. That same mid-August of 1969, I was learning that Pensacola is hot and humid, and that the boot camp for Navy Flight is under the command of the Marines. Boy! Did I have a lot to learn.
Over the next 10 years I did learn, through Peter Howell, how special a friend can be.

Hank Alderfer, a local resident, was born and raised on a ranch in Buffalo Park. He served on the boards of the Jefferson County Historical Society and the Evergreen Park and Recreation District and is a founder of the Mountain Area Land Trust.