Just in time for the fifth annual Conservation Days last Thursday and Friday, Ira Houseweart completed work on a new handicap accessible ramp at the Paonia River Park.
"Ira finished it last week," Julia Bowman, Paonia River Park Coordinator for the Western Slope Conservation Center, said. "We're convinced it's the nicest ramp in Colorado."
Houseweart, an artist and metal worker in Hotchkiss, also worked with Jim Hardin on the viewing platform and the entrance to the Paonia River Park. All three pieces have common themes.
"We brought in a lot of the natural river elements, from fish to frogs to flowers to cattails and other natural elements," Houseweart said. "Then we worked with the rusted steel to give it that natural look."
The ramp is constructed entirely out of steel and is some 210 feet long. In all Houseweart said there are over 230 feet of rail used on the project.
The ramp allows access to the lower bank of the North Fork and the two or three sandy beach areas that are so popular at the River Park.
"Because of this ramp we're now becoming closer and closer to being totally ADA compliant," Bowman said.
The Conservation Center has been working over the past few years to beautify and enhance the River Park and to make it accessible for everyone. The ramp is a big step in that direction.
"It gives a cool little access to the river," Houseweart said. "I don't know if there's any other access point to the river like this. It's all about public access."
Ira's Delta County roots run deep. He and his wife Cynthia and their daughters live on the original homestead of his great-grandfather Oren Charles Houseweart. In 2015, the Houseweart Ranch was honored as a Centennial Farm by History Colorado for remaining in operation under the same family for more than a century.
Cynthia and Ira operate Princess Beef, marketing homegrown, grass-finished beef directly to consumers. Their herd of prized Angus-Simmental cattle includes some mother cows descended from the original Houseweart herd, according to History Colorado.
Ira is combining his passion for metalwork with an artist's touch to create unique and functional items through his blacksmith business, Ira Houseweart Metalworks, LLC. His website describes his work as "creatively conceived and custom-crafted furniture, hardware and sculpture for home and business."
Ira first learned to work metal by welding on the family farm. He went on to earn degrees in welding and machine and manufacturing trades at Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) in Grand Junction.
A quick look through the gallery of his work quickly establishes his skill with metal. On the smaller scale, the gallery features a wide array of work, ranging from beautiful and functional grates and tools for the fireplace to whimsical and fashionable accent pieces.
On a grander scale, you can spot Ira's hand-forged gates at the entrances to several local ranches and at custom homes throughout the Western Slope. The double gate leading to the football field at Hotchkiss High School, featuring the Bulldog mascot, is his work.
And of course, people are enjoying the unique ramp at Paonia River Park.
For more examples of Ira's art and metalwork, visit
coloradoblacksmith.com. Follow him at https://www.facebook.com/ira.houseweart.
Thanks to the efforts of state Rep. Millie Hamner, House District 61, Colorado State University plans to re-open the Rogers Mesa research site.
The facility was taken out of operation in 2011, due to budget cuts throughout the CSU system.