Aldo Leopold and his family
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The Shack Gene

A Family Tradition Inspired by Time Spent at the Leopold Shack

Growing up visiting the Shack nearly every weekend had a profound effect on all of Aldo Leopold’s children. In turn, they all went on to share elements of the Shack experience with their own families, and many of their children and grandchildren have continued the same tradition. Some members of the family have claimed that all of the Leopolds have a Shack gene deeply entwined in their DNA that compels them toward needing a place for retreat and experimentation. Whatever the cause, all of Leopold’s children went on to continue the traditions begun at the Shack in their own newfound ways. These places provided spaces for vacation, recreation, land restoration, and scientific research.

Estella: Shack West, Colorado

Estella's Shack West in Colorado

Early in her career, Estella worked for the U.S. Geological Survey based in Denver. Like other members of her family, she longed for a place to get away from the city as she had grown up doing at the Shack. She bought land west of Denver and constructed the place she named Shack West. Although the landscape is quite different, the building bears many similarities to the original Shack, down to the massive stone fireplace that dominates the main room. Estella used Shack West as a place for outdoor recreation for herself and for younger members of the Leopold Family when they moved to Colorado in later years.

Carl: Tropical Forestry Institute, Costa Rica

Carl Leopold's Costa Rica cabin

Carl and his wife, Lynn, together with several friends and colleagues, purchased land in Costa Rica as a place to experiment with tropical forest restoration. They partnered with locals to build a research station and began a tree nursery to learn about germination of tropical trees, which they then planted in plots to mimic the diversity of tropical forests. They tracked the recruitment and growth of the trees each year, compiling a body of knowledge critical to the success of future restoration work in the area.

Nina: Bradley Study Center, Wisconsin

Nina and her husband, Charlie, retired back to Wisconsin in the 1970s and built a house just a mile down the road from the original Shack. The Bradley Study Center was partially their home and partially a research station where they hosted graduate students each summer, the beginning of the Leopold Fellows, now Future Leaders, program. Nina and Charlie followed in Aldo’s footsteps, carefully restoring the landscape around them. Their success with prairie restoration included a particularly high-quality restoration that Nina named after her mother, the Estella Bergere Leopold Prairie. Her home was also frequently a gathering place for her siblings when they came back to visit the Shack they had known as children.

Luna: Pinedale, Wyoming

Luna Leopold's Shack in Pinedale, Wyoming

Luna’s “Shack” outside of Pinedale, Wyoming, looks out on the majestic Wind River Mountains. Luna designed his cabin and constructed it with the help of some of the younger generation of Leopolds. He used it as a base camp for his research on hydrogeomorphology in the region and the restoration of a creek on his property. This research formed the backbone of much of his famous work on hydrology that continues to be an important reference in this field.

Starker: Sagehen Creek Field Station, California

As part of his work for the University of California– Berkeley, Starker founded the Sagehen Creek Field Station in the Sierra Nevada north of Truckee, California. He used it as a site for many of his own wildlife research projects and regularly brought students to conduct research there as well. Today, Sagehen Creek still actively hosts research and is part of the University of California’s Natural Reserve System and is also a site for environmental education and a testing ground for experimental forestry practices.


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