High atop a mountain in the Pike National Forest, on a bald ridge exposed to wind and weather, Eric Hibbs stumbles across a treasure: an old, gnarled bristlecone pine stump. Where most people may see a dead piece of wood, he sees the potential for a beautiful dining room table — and his next woodworking project.
Hibbs is intimately familiar with the hiking trails and ATV roads in the wilderness areas surrounding Antero Reservoir. After all, he has lived and worked at the reservoir as a Denver Water caretaker for almost 25 years. For him, Antero is not just a place to work; it’s home.
His workdays are spent monitoring water levels in the reservoir; maintaining the facilities, vehicles and tools; and ensuring the security of the reservoir, dam and surrounding property. While the work is hard and the hours are long, Hibbs’ dedication to providing Denver Water customers with high-quality water keeps him going.
“I never dreamed I’d have a job as amazing as this. Over the years, I’ve been able to work on so many different projects across Denver Water and across the state. I just can’t think of a better job out there,” he said.
And who could blame him? The mesmerizing views surrounding Antero Reservoir are just icing on the cake, and when he gets a day off work, Hibbs makes his way into the forest to explore — searching for wood to fuel his furniture-making hobby.
Hibbs was exposed to carpentry at an early age. “Beginning in about eighth grade, I started helping my grandfather build log cabins and rebuild old buggies and wagons. He really laid the foundation for my work ethic and taught me so much about carpentry and tools,” Hibbs said.
But, it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that Hibbs decided to revisit woodworking as a hobby, thanks to the encouragement of his brother.
“I’d go into the forest to collect wood for myself and my parents to burn in the winter. My brother had seen some wood furniture at bluegrass festivals and said to me, ‘Man, you’re just burning all this beautiful wood. Why don’t you make some furniture out of it?’”
Intrigued, Hibbs decided to try his hand at building a king-size bed. “It was probably the largest, most difficult project I could have chosen to start with. I had a friend who was willing to teach me how to build it, and I just went for it.”
Since then, he has built more than 50 pieces of furniture, and his first creation still sits in a cabin he owns near Antero, where he also houses his woodworking shop.
For Hibbs, the hunt for the perfect piece of bristlecone or aspen is just as rewarding as completing a piece of furniture.
“I once spent two entire days out in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness hauling wood down, and I’ve been known to hop off my ATV and hike in as far as a mile to carry or roll hundred-pound sections of wood out,” he said.
In fact, while he enjoys hunting game, Hibbs finds he’s often distracted in search of perfectly sculpted, weathered bristlecone. “Sometimes I find myself no longer hunting for animals. Instead, I’m examining bristlecone and aspen trees, and I have to chuckle.”
While he doesn’t have much time to dedicate to his hobby, Hibbs hopes to spend more time on it when he retires.
“It’s what I do to relax. It’s really rewarding to find a piece of wood, carry it out of the forest, put in all the cutting, sanding, sealing and hard work to transform it — to start with nothing and create something beautiful from it.”