2021 GCHA President’s Report
B. Travis Wright, MPS presented his 2021 GCHA President’s Report for the Grand County Historical Association on December 4, 2021.
As the Grand County Historical Association’s president of the board, I am honored to present my annual report for 2021. At the conclusion of my 2020 president’s report, I wrote, “…the GCHA is better poised to advance our county’s story and protect our history for years to come.” Protecting our history in 2021 is the most significant story to share with our membership tonight. There are many highlights, achievements, and accomplishments made throughout the year, and I’ve chosen just the top few. I’ll begin in Kremmling and move towards Winter Park.
The stories held by the treasured Kremmling Depot draw closer to becoming unlocked: the GCHA worked closely with History Colorado on construction documents needed for this structure to be rehabilitated and to shine brightly once again. Through grants and very generous donations, we continue to advance this very important goal. Our work isn’t over—please give generously on Tuesday, December 7th—Colorado Gives Day—to the Grand County Historical Association.
In Hot Sulphur Springs, our newest hire Samantha Missey can be seen developing new programming and education events to better engage with the public about our county’s incredible history. The board and I are excited that Samantha has joined the GCHA, and we’re eager to see what she will accomplish in 2022 and beyond. Erica Rodenbeck, our curator and exhibit manager, has been doing absolutely exceptional work in carefully recording our accessioned items, clearing out our backlog, and working with the State Archaeologist and with NAGPRA experts to ensure that our artifact collection remains ethical. Shanna Ganne, our executive director, continues to impress—not only is our historical association flourishing amid a pandemic, but we’re reaching more people and making more connections than ever before—and that’s because of Shanna’s hard work.
As we make our way towards Fraser, the proposed Fraser Valley Parkway project involved the GCHA. The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has engaged the GCHA as a consulting party under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and we have provided ample documentation to not only Metcalf Archaeology but also to the USACE. In short, the GCHA finds that this proposed roadway would directly, adversely, and significantly impact at least three resources eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and subsequently, the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties. Those resources are County Road 73 (5GA4892), the Middle Park Lumber Company Railroad (5GA4893), and the Fraser World War II Prisoner-of-War Camp (5GA4852).
Very little evidence remains of prisoner of war camps in Colorado, and per Metcalf’s report, “The sloped floor of the theaters in Trinidad and a pillar in Greeley are all that are left of two of the main camps.” No historic designation of any type appears for the remnants in Trinidad and the pillars in Greeley were listed as a local historic landmark, however they do not appear to be listed on the State or National Registers. Incredibly, the Fraser POW camp is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under both Criterion A (the property is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history) as well as Criterion D (the property shows, or may be likely to yield, information important to history or prehistory.) Nomination of this site to the National Register is on the Grand County Historical Association’s roadmap.
As we pass the town of Winter Park, there are two substantial news stories that happened here in 2021; yet many of you probably have not heard about them as they didn’t receive any attention from our local newspapers. On behalf of the GCHA, I am pleased to share them with you tonight. When the slopes of Winter Park Resort come into view, so does the historic Balcony House. Unfortunately, this iconic building is under threat of demolition and was listed this year as one of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places by Colorado Preservation, Inc. I had the privilege of working with architect Jim Johnson who says of this building, “The two-story Balcony House, with its panoramic views from cascading balconies, is a unique example of mid-century modern architecture, popular from the 1940s to 1960s in the United States and characterized by upswept roofs, geometric shapes and bold use of glass. The design scheme was further influenced by the Fraser Valley agrarian architecture by protecting itself from cold winter winds and embracing the warm southern sun. One of America’s very first passive solar ski lodges, its south-facing balconies offer panoramic views to Winter Park’s competition and recreational slopes. Its mid-century modern style represented America’s fascination with and marketing emphasis on futuristic designs and the coming space age.”
Coloradans are familiar with the renovated and revitalized Union Station serving as Denver’s Living Room. There is a thread—or rather, track—running between Denver’s Union Station and the apron of fresh snow leading to the Balcony House. In the winter, the Ski Train—now the Winter Park Express—departs Union Station, travels under the Continental Divide through the historic Moffat Tunnel, and passengers detrain steps away from Winter Park’s Living Room: the Balcony House. This building has been crucial to the setting of Winter Park Ski Area for 66 years: it has been a meeting place, a Ski Train station, ticketing hub, coffee house, lunchroom, ski competition center, and so much more.
Jim and I advocated on-camera for this unique Grand County treasure—and we were joined by Wendy Christensen and Janet Engel—who were able to weave a heartwarming story around how central this building was to their upbringing growing up at the base of Winter Park Resort. There’s not a lot of land at the base of the resort and the challenge with this structure and its future becomes integrating needs of a growing resort with the adaptive re-use of this building. Historic preservation of the Balcony House should not be viewed as ‘either/or’—either the building is kept, or it’s demolished; but instead seen as ‘both/and’—both the historic Balcony House and new growth can be accommodated, and both made complementary to each other.
From the slopes of the resort one can see the Balcony House—as well as the lower grades of Rollins Pass. This is the final stop on tonight’s tour of the county for 2021 and it represents the best of historic preservation and advocacy in response to an imminent and pressing threat to our county’s history. As head of the GCHA, when I would speak with others, I summarized the risk, “A fragile yet remarkably intact cultural landscape in Colorado’s mountains may lose the protection of being part of the US Forest Service lands as part of a proposed land exchange that may take place in the coming year. This land swap with a private developer would open 543 acres along a still unpaved historic mountain pass with 11,000 years of history to inappropriate new development. This would endanger early Native American hunting features, unchanged vistas seen by early settlers traversing the Rocky Mountains, and evidence of the railroad that once carried travelers over this mountain pass.”
Development plans called for the construction of a significant amount of road in the short term and likely condos/homes in the future, with the potential for pavement to cover the historic Moffat Road railroad grade on the lower portions of Rollins Pass. The land swap directly endangered 1.65 miles of historic road within the 543-acre parcel; the overall development threatened 4.55 miles. Distressingly, the Town of Winter Park identified this land as within the “three-mile planning area” and it is anticipated “this area will be annexed into the [town] as part of [a] property exchange.” In fact, many who wanted to see this land exchange happen wrote to the US Forest Service that the land on historic Rollins Pass was “squarely in the development path and [is] a logical place for future growth to occur.” Embarrassingly, continued pro-development aspirations and the failure to see beyond real estate values only reinforces the area’s inclusion as one of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places.
One of GCHA’s concerns was that this land exchange would open the funnel of development on the lower portions of the pass without a plan to address resource protection higher up on the pass where internationally significant prehistoric Native American game drive systems exist and are at risk for further damage and degradation. To build awareness both inside and outside of the county, I delivered presentation after presentation across Colorado. The GCHA collaborated with experts from across the state, and thousands of hours later, these efforts culminated in the collapse of the proposed federal land exchange involving Rollins Pass. Permanent protections for this area are needed and we urge you to write to the Forest Service and to tell them to safeguard Rollins Pass from future land exchanges.
We also worked directly with the Grand County Board of County Commissioners to help them respond to a proposal regarding opening the Guinn Mountain portion of the historic Boulder Wagon Road on Rollins Pass to vehicular traffic. The proposal the commissioners were in support of contained many inaccuracies and we re-worked their response to ensure that history was carefully considered and protected, the intricacies of the NHPA and NEPA processes were made known, and that appropriate questions would be asked should the proposal move forward. What was originally planned to be a half-page letter became a four-page response to help our county’s commissioners excel on matters related to historic preservation as the area is a National Historic District stretching into Gilpin and Boulder Counties.
As I bring this report to a close, I think fondly of our beloved treasurer and long-time board member, Barbara Mitchell, who passed earlier this year as did Patty Madison, our archivist. Both ladies were absolute gems: we are a better historical association because of their contributions and their presence. When someone passes, it’s always hard to find the right words, but I’ve always seen loss as an invitation to continue that person’s legacy—and by staying true to our mission, we honor both Patty and Barbara’s hard work and their passion.
To Patty and Barbara; GCHA staff, our membership, and those attending tonight from the public: we remained true to our mission, and we will fiercely protect that which makes Grand County history unique.
B. Travis Wright, MPS
Saturday, December 4, 2021