No doubt about it Colorado is a wonderful place to live- It started around 10,000 years ago when the earliest ancestors of today’s Native Americans began coming to what is present day Colorado to enjoy the bounty of this wonderful region. We’ve had farmers, ranchers, miners, railroaders,tech wizards, musicians, nature lovers, skiers and snowboarders, and marijuana enthusiasts all flock here to set up roots. We have everything you could desire except for maybe a white sand beach and an ocean to surf in, but who needs that when you have the Rocky Mountains? In recent decades Colorado experienced a couple of distinct population booms which have drastically altered the look of the Front Range and seen the entire I-25 corridor from Ft. Collins to Colorado Springs turn into one vast, sprawling, urban metropolis.
Can Colorado’s historic sites like Geneva City (pictured) be saved from the encroachment of modern man?
Colorado has had booms throughout it’s modern “American” history, which began when the Spanish conquistadors first came through the area in the 16th and 17th centuries. They told of the great natural wealth of the area, and a few hearty Spanish ranchers would lead their herds and flocks into what is now Colorado. Following the early Spaniards came fur traders of all origins, although the French showed a particular fondness for Colorado. On the tails of the fur trade came the prospectors who found gold in large quantities in 1859 which sparked the great “Colorado Gold Rush.” After the Gold Rush, Colorado had the silver boom of the 1870’s and 1880’s. The railroads provided work and a reason for even more to come here. Then we had the ranchers, farmers, and the industrialists with their mills a smelters for refining the ore mined in the mountains.
The first of the recent “modern era” booms came in the late 1980’s and 1990’s- What became known as the “Tech Boom” brought thousands to the state to work for the technology and computer giants based at the foot of the Rockies. Towards the end of the 1990’s the Tech Boom slowed and population growth in Colorado mellowed. Then, in recent years, Colorado has experienced another boom. Some of the new boom is more affluent people fleeing urban centers on the east and west coast, bringing their wealth to Colorado in search of quieter, less stressful living. And, like it or not, the other cause for the recent population spike in Colorado is the “Weed Boom” following the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012.
According to census statistics and projections found on the State of Colorado website colo.gov. the state has seen 16.9% increase in population since the year 2000- That’s around 1.6 million people in the last 15 years! Growth in the early 2000’s was around 1.1% annually, increasing in the years 2010-2012 to around 1.5% annually. Following marijuana legalization the state has seen growth jump from 1.5% in 2012 to 1.75% currently, with a projection of 1.9% for 2016. According to studies conducted by CBS News, 60 Minutes and The Business Insider nearly 25% of those coming to Colorado since 2012 fall into the 18-34 year old age bracket. Denver proper is the 6th fastest growing city in the United States, and, overall, Colorado’s population growth is double the national average.
The urban sprawl of Denver…once described as “…a dusty little cow town on the plains…” now one of the Top 10 fastest growing cities in the United States. Denver’s rapid expansion has led to an influx of visitors to the mountains nearby.
This massive influx of over a 1.5 million new residents, many of whom are young and active, seeking fun and adventure in Colorado’s great outdoors, brings with it a burden on our National Forests Colorado was not prepared for. From lack of parking and facilities at hot spots such as the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Guanella Pass, Herman Gulch, etc., to traffic congestion on the weekends on nearly every road and trail on the east slope of the Continental Divide, Colorado’s mountains are groaning from the pressure.
Can we find a balance between the encroaching wants and desires of the modern world and the reminders of our past? How do we satisfy the the growing demand for “organized recreation” in our National Forests? By “organized recreation” I mean today’s weekender in the National Forest expects to find zip line tours, rafting trips, comfy “civilized” dude ranches with horseback rides, guided nature walks along groomed trails, lodges offering 5-star dining, and paved campgrounds with electrical hookups and flushing toilets…and maybe a few trails to take their ATV’s or mountain bikes out on in the afternoon. How do we accommodate those who want all the creature comforts of the city AND the great outdoors experience at the same time? Dying are the days of the outdoorsman who ventured into the back country in his beat up 4X4 with a can of Vienna Sausages, some beef jerky, a tent, fishing pole and some water.
Today’s Coloradan (native and new) is largely urban born and bred, with little or no real “back country” experience. This isn’t an attack on anyone, it’s just the plain truth. Colorado is urban these days, most of us are city people. And, for the most part, urban people, especially the younger ones, have not been raised on weekend camping trips to unknown spots deep in the mountains. As a result, they have not been taught to respect the wilderness. Protecting the environment to most modern city dwellers is putting your dog poop in plastic bag, attending a “Save the Whales” protest, or car-pooling to work- But when it comes to handling environmentalism in the wilderness close to home on the weekends, most would get failing grades for the path of garbage and destruction they leave behind when they transfer their city practices to the mountains.
In defense of the the urbanites flocking to Colorado they have come from cities that are no where near any wide open forest areas and/or mountains like we take for granted as native Coloradans. And, those who have come from areas where there were at least public recreation areas like parks and lakes, etc. they became accustomed to creature comforts like toilet facilities and trash cans. Many have never been exposed to back country camping where you are expected to clean up after yourself. “Pack it in, pack it out” the well-known mantra of natives here, is an unknown concept to new arrivals who are accustomed to park rangers and waste management crews taking care of the debris field they leave in their wake.
Unfortunately, many of the historic sites within our National Forests and on BLM land open to the public are falling victim to those who come seeking weekend adventure and relaxation. Increasingly on my personal trips to the mining camps and ghost towns of the Rockies I’m finding more and more discouraging signs of modern man’s encroachment- old buildings stripped of their wood for use in camp fires, antique mining equipment shot full of holes or simply stolen from where it has sat for the last 100 years, graffitti scrawled into the walls of buildings and cabins, headstones toppled, vandalized or stolen from historic graveyards, evidence of 4X4’s and ATV’s going off designated trails and damaging sites and destroying wetlands. And trash, trash everywhere- plastic bottles, beer and liquor bottles, black trash bags full of garbage ripped open by animals and the contents strewn all over the surrounding mountainside. Yes, this has ALWAYS happened in modern times, but being someone who spends the majority of my time in these once hard to reach, remote places, it has really become an epidemic in the last five years or so as the population has surged, back country roads have been improved, and overall human pressure on the wilderness has increased.
Photo of trash left behind at a campsite. Taken two weeks ago by friends of mine. I’ve seen similar too many times to count in recent years. This illustrates the importance of teaching the “pack it in, pack it out” principle.
What can we do to help stop the destruction of Colorado’s history and forests? We must understand that most of the people in Colorado, native and new, don’t have much interest in the state’s history, and they don’t think twice about that old cabin or that rusty old boiler alongside the trail as they whizz by on their dirt bike. They’ve come for the trail, and the camping, not the cabin and the boiler. To them, it’s just “old junk” so what’s the big deal if they shoot it full of holes or tear boards off of it to throw in the campfire? Some even think they are helping by tearing down old structures that they personally deem “unsafe.”
What looks like rusty, old junk to some, is actually Colorado history, and is protected by Federal laws.
What looks like firewood to some is actually the remains of a historic cabin, and is protected under Federal law.
The big deal to those of us who are history buffs, is that these piles of “old junk” represent Colorado’s past- Whether they be a Native American site or a rusty stamp mill at a mine, they are equally valuable and important to Colorado’s history, and they are protected by the law. They are our connection to the early days of the state, from the indigenous populations who once called Colorado home, to the hearty miners and prospectors, pioneers and trappers who set up roots here and helped create the fantastic state we live in today. These piles of “old junk” are their legacy to us, and are sacred to many of us, and are disappearing at an alarming rate from the forces of Nature, and sadly, the destructive forces of man.
History, not rubbish.
As our mountains get more and more pressure from our growing population- both native and new, our past is being destroyed and lost forever. In recent decades we have lost entire historic sites to man’s destruction- The ghost town of Tiger was burned to the ground by the Forest Service in the 1970’s to rid it of the hippie colony that had squatted in the abandoned buildings. The simple marble tombstone of two-year-old Clara Dulaney who died in 1865, was stolen from the Missouri Flats site by some sick pervert in recent years. ALL of the tombstones have been stolen from the Caribou cemetery above Nederland.
Protective fence recently erected at Missouri Flats to protect the grave of little Clara Dulaney whose simple tombstone was stolen in recent years by some pervert.
Manhattan was torn down by the Forest Service because it was a “fire hazard.” We lost the old ghost town of Ninetyfour near St. Mary’s glacier to private owners who bought the land and built a custom home- This once public ghost town still stands, but is now off-limits to visitors, although you can still sneak a photo of the old post office with a zoom lens.
The now privately owned and off-limits post office of Ninetyfour taken through a zoom lens.
About a decade ago an annoying, immature, and inconsiderate radio host from Denver who could be described more accurately with the use of profanity, illegally held a 4X4 rally on clearly marked private land above the Hendricks Silver Mine near Nederland and destroyed a couple of acres of wetlands that the mine owner had spent many years rehabilitating and returning to health. American City and Baltimore above Central City had their historic buildings ripped down by developers and replaced with modern summer cabins and the sites have been closed off to the public.
Places like Dyersville which were long lost to history and found in an almost undisturbed state many decades later have fallen victim to vandals who destroy the cabins and loot the artifacts left at the site. In the subdivision of Ken Caryl Ranch many homeowners have long called for the demolition of the historic Bradford House (because it is an “eyesore” in their prestigious community) which was a stagecoach stop and Civil War era recruiting station, only through the efforts of a group of preservationists was the building allowed to remain. Near Cripple Creek, the old blacksmith shop and schoolhouse that marked the site of Anaconda were bulldozed around a year ago by the owners of the Anglo Gold-Ashanti CCV gold mine in order to expand operations, when they could have easily and cheaply been moved and preserved among the other historic artifacts displayed in the area. The buildings of Waldorf were lost to an arsonist a while back.
Old abandoned buildings…such a temptation to arsonists.
Countless numbers of old mining machines have been illegally hauled off hillsides and sold for scrap or put on the market in recent years to satisfy the desires of collectors, fashionable bar and restaurant owners, and interior designers capitalizing on the trend of “re-purposing” old industrial equipment. TV shows even glamorize and document the theft of historic artifacts that are in turn sold for profit.
In recent years, some City/County Governments, the EPA, and other environmentalist organizations have jumped in on the act and have taken great pride in trying to erase Colorado’s past as a mining state- Boulder County being a prime example- Boulder, along with the EPA has taken almost orgasmic pleasure in the destruction of old mining camps in the name of “restoration and environmental cleanup” as a result the numerous ghost towns and camps that dotted the hills above Boulder have been completely erased. Boulder County seems so vindictive of their past that it almost appears that they want to rewrite their own history and make no mention of the gold mining that created their present day. Boulder County even brazenly turned the historic Catholic Church in Ward into the community garbage collection and composting site for a few years, but recently they stopped this practice, although they still use the church to store road construction equipment. Magnolia, Lakewood, Balarat, Tungsten, Camp Tolcott, Camp Francis…the list of historic sites now lost in Boulder County goes on and on- How much longer will it be before Summerville is destroyed? And, lest we forget natural disasters out of our hands like the forest fires and floods of the last few years that took even more of Boulder County’s history- Soon there will be nothing left of Boulder County’s past.
How much longer will Summerville last before some official with Boulder County decides it’s “unsightly” or “unsafe” and needs to be destroyed?
One of those misguided souls who set out to “help” make Colorado “safer” wound up in Federal Court about 6 years ago, being sued for millions of dollars and looking at jail time, after he bulldozed an entire ghost town in the San Juan Mountains on public land! His defense was he thought it was “unsafe” because people were stopping and taking photos of the tumbledown buildings- He truly felt in his own mind he was doing the right thing to protect public safety by destroying the ghost town!!!
Everyday historic sites across Colorado are demolished to make way for new housing, parking lots, resorts, luxury condos, ski runs, and the “organized recreation” the new Coloradan wants in favor of the “outback wilderness experience” many of us natives grew up on. But where does it stop? Where does our responsibility as Coloradans come in to play in the preservation and protection of our history and heritage? We can’t simply bulldoze, pave, and stripe off the Rocky Mountains in the name of comfort, ease of access, and safety, which seems to be the desire of so many these days. There has to be, and needs to a disconnect between the modern world and the wilderness- That is what wilderness means.
Boulder County uses this historic church at Ward as an equipment storage garage for road crews, and, recently even used it as a community garbage collection point and compost heap. Boulder County can do better, this is a historic site, and churches are sacred places to many.
Dyersville, dating to the 1880’s in Summit County was largely intact and undisturbed until the last four years. When I first visited Dyersville in 2011 there were around twelve structures, when I returned in 2015 there were six, the remaining cabins had been vandalized by graffiti and showed signs of having logs and boards removed for use in campfires. It won’t be long until Dyersville is totally gone.
The Bradford House located inside the Ken Caryl Ranch subdivision west of Denver which was the topic of a heated battle between preservationists and people who wanted it torn down because it was an “eyesore” in their opinion. This was Colorado’s Union recruiting station in the Civil War!
What can those of us that want to protect Colorado’s history do to stop this unfortunate destruction of our past? There are Federal laws already in place that strictly prohibit taking, destroying, or metal detecting for any items or structures at historic sites over 50 years old. (I believe the law makes it a felony to metal detect at historic sites, and a felony to remove any item over 5 pounds, I’m not 100% sure though.) The problem with these laws, like most laws, are they are virtually unenforceable. Who among us hasn’t taken home an old rusty nail, a bottle or a rusty can you found along the way? I know I have! These laws were designed to stop people from outright looting of historic sites like taking doors and windows, furnishings, machinery, and even grave robbing. Realistically, it’s not the nails and the tin cans the law set out to protect. There is absolutely no way the Forest Service can patrol every historic site in Colorado, and they shouldn’t have to. How can private citizens like most of us who consider ourselves “ghost towners” and amateur historians do anything to help?
How long will this old Ford remain hidden in the pines untouched before someone finds it and steals it or shoots it full of holes? This is what the Federal laws protecting historic sites are designed to save, sadly the laws are hard to enforce.
There are many state and local historic preservation clubs and societies that exist that we can join, and many of them are actively taking steps to protect and preserve sites, but funding and time constraints limit the extent of their efforts. We can stay in contact with each other and share remote sites we’ve found, and make our own efforts to at least clean up the modern trash we find left at the sites by those who don’t care. We can lobby and request our lawmakers do something to protect more historic sites. But, all of this stuff has been done before, and clearly, it isn’t working well enough. The efforts are appreciated, but somehow more needs to be done to stop the onslaught of destruction. Too many people just don’t care, and somehow we need to change that.
The Rock Creek Stage Station preserved for all to enjoy.
My only thought is those of us who do care and want to keep Colorado’s history in a state of “arrested decay” for future generations to enjoy, is that we spread the word to everyone we know. Just ask them to respect and appreciate the history that surrounds us in Colorado, the history that made Colorado what it is today. And, even if you don’t care about the history, just don’t destroy something for the sake of destroying it. Treat every old cabin and every old mine like a grave, and show it some reverence and respect. If you’re out and find a spot that has been trashed or vandalized, clean up the mess. If you see someone taking something from a site or defacing a structure, ask them to stop and explain that it’s not just “old junk”, it is Colorado’s past they are ruining, and it is protected by Federal laws. Take only photos to document the fading reminders of the past, even without man’s destruction and abuse, nature will soon swallow what little is left, we can preserve it forever through photographs and written descriptions.
The schoolhouse at Malta, the only structure left to mark the towns location, preserved for future generations instead of being destroyed or vandalized.
It is my greatest fear that in the very near future in Colorado our only historic sites and ghost towns will be turned into “pay-at-the-gate” tourist traps and fabrications made to look and feel old like Bodie and Calico in California. Colorado has a great wealth of free history to be found in the forests, but we have to educate the people using the forests these days not to destroy what they find. It might not make a bit of difference, but maybe if enough of us who care become active, and stop and explain the history of these places in a friendly manner to the people we find there, they will leave with a new found appreciation for what they viewed as merely “old junk”. I’ve done it a few times myself and I’ve always gotten a positive reaction from the people I’ve stopped and talked to. We just need to find some way to protect what is left and we should all exchange ideas and suggestions.
“Pay-at-the-gate” Calico, California, a largely fabricated ghost town tourist trap. Is this the future of Colorado? Let’s hope not, we’re better than this.
I was raised to respect the wilderness and whatever I might find lurking within the trees be it an animal, or an old cabin, or a mine shaft. There are just a few simple rules when enjoying the wilderness that all of us should remember and share with our friends. If we can just follow some basics the wilderness will be better for all of us:
-Treat every old cabin or structure like a grave. Look at it, explore it, but leave it as you found it, don’t vandalize or destroy it.
-Pack out EVERYTHING you pack in. Leave the forest better than you found it. Take out someone else’s trash along with your own and make the woods better for everyone.
-Keep your ATV, dirt bike or 4X4 on the trail, There are so many trails in Colorado it is unnecessary to go “make your own”, and keep them out of the wetlands and beaver ponds where they will do serious damage to the ecosystems.
-Don’t shoot your guns on holiday weekends when the forests are crawling with people. Don’t shoot into old buildings, vehicles or equipment you find, and don’t take your old TV’s to the woods to shoot! (I’ve seen about 10,000 shot up TV’s in the past year and they make an awful mess!) We recently had an innocent man enjoying a campfire with his family die due to a stray bullet fired irresponsibly on the 4th of July weekend. Discharging firearms within 150 yards of ANY road, dirt or paved in the National Forest is illegal, please exercise your gun rights responsibly. If all of us gun owners act responsibly fewer people will attack our rights, it’s common sense. Go above and beyond with your gun safety in the woods and never fire over a hill, into the air, or on a busy weekend or holiday when others are camping in close proximity.
-If you are on the trail use trail etiquette and always yield to allow the vehicle coming uphill the right of way.
-Never kill an animal unless you are going to eat it.
-Always put your campfire completely out. Douse it in water, bury it in dirt.
Old school bus shot full of holes near Stumptown above Leadville, surrounded by modern day garbage- an armchair, plastic milk crates, assorted TV guts and electronics…disgusting!
We all have the right to access and enjoy our National Forests, but like every right, there comes responsibilities as well.
Colorado History- Enjoy it, don’t destroy it!