DENVER – At 83, Betty Dick (search) faces eviction from her home of a quarter century by a landlord with a lot of clout: the Department of the Interior.
Dick splits her time between Scottsdale, Ariz., and a cabin on 23 acres about four miles north of the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (search). Her neighbors are moose and elk. She's surrounded by the Continental Divide on three sides. The Colorado River, still a creek near its beginning, trickles by her door.
"It's absolutely the most peaceful place in the world," Dick said in a telephone interview Friday.
Not that she's had much peace of mind lately. Her late husband, Fred, owned land in the park and signed a 25-year agreement with the Interior Department (search) that allowed them to stay on part of it. The agreement expires July 16.
Dick will have to find a new home unless Congress approves legislation specifically extending the agreement, allowing her to stay. The House Resources Committee has approved a bill by Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., to do that. A similar bill by Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., is pending in the Senate.
The proposed legislation came about after community members wrote letters and e-mails urging government officials to allow Dick to stay put. Hers is the only known case of a homeowner being evicted from national parkland.
"I think I would've been worn down if not for all these people," Dick said.
The Interior Department opposes allowing her to keep living in the park about 70 miles northwest of Denver. Michael Snyder, acting deputy director of the National Park Service, testified before a House subcommittee in April that the legislation would set a bad precedent for similar agreements and leases on National Park Service land.
Park Service officials referred to Snyder's testimony when asked for comments.
Lawrence Pacheco, Udall's spokesman, said the congressman received a letter Thursday denying his request to allow Dick to stay in the cabin until Congress acts on his bill.
Dick traveled to Washington this spring to make her own case to Congress. Her husband and his first wife owned 66.5 acres inside Rocky Mountain National Park. Fred Dick's first wife got the property in their divorce but when she sold it to the Interior Department, he sued in 1979 because he had the right of first refusal.
In an out-of-court settlement, the Park Service acquired about two-thirds of the property. Betty Dick said her husband retained 23 acres and the cabin and paid the government $7,500. She said they were told they could stay there the rest of their lives, and then the land would go to the Park Service.
She said she showed members of Congress records that referred to the deal as a "life estate." She said Interior officials have mischaracterized the agreement as a lease.
The final document, though, limited the couple's time on the land to 25 years, which Dick said devastated her husband.
"He said, `You know, I just can't keep on fighting them,"' Dick said.
He also figured the agreement would outlive both of them.
"He died in 1992 and I'm here. I'm 83 and I don't want to move, and I don't think I should have to move," Dick said.
If she has to leave, she plans to stay in the area. She is active in church, civic and theater groups in nearby Grand Lake and other towns and considers the area her home.
But she's banking on getting to stay where she is. "I'm too much of a positive thinker," she said.