Grand County

Grand County Articles

Grand County
Grand County

Grand County was established in 1874 by the Territory of Colorado, thus becoming a county two years before Colorado became a state. It was named for the Grand River, the name by which the Colorado River was known at that time. The headwaters of the today’s Colorado River are in Grand County. The county was formed from a portion of Summit County but acquired its current boundaries in 1877, when part of the Grand County was used to create Routt County. The county seat is Hot Sulphur Springs. The area of 1,854 square miles consists of meadows, river valleys and mountains.

Grand County Time Line
Grand County Time Line

Prehistoric
7000 BCE to 900 BCE: Paleo Indians  (Yarmony, Rollins Pass, Windy Gap) use Middle Park as summer hunting area

1819 – 1860
1819:Adams-Onis Treaty – Middle Park partitioned – Sites of Granby, Fraser, Grand Lake and Hot Sulphur are in the U.S, Kremmling still part of Spain

Middle Park well known to “Mountain Men” by 1820

1828: Kremmling becomes part of Texas

1837: T.J. Farnham’s expedition crosses the Blue at Grand River

1839: Grand River named on a semi-official map

1842: Rufus B. Sage visit

1844: Captain John C. Fremont’s second expedition, accompanied by Kit Carson, enters Middle Park over Muddy Pass and exits up the Blue River

1854: Sir St. George Gore, an Englishmen, accompanied by Jim Bridger enters Middle Park for hunting expedition

1859: First appearance of prospectors; interest in Hot Sulphur Springs

1861 – 1874
1861: Berthoud crosses Berthoud Pass and traverses Middle Park

1861: Middle Park becomes part of Summit County

1863: Trouble begins between the Utes and white men

1864-1868: Wm. N. Byers acquires Hot Sulphur Springs

1866: Gov. Cummings signs Treaty of Middle Park

1868: John Wesley Powell visits Grand Lake, makes first recorded ascent of Longs Peak

1867: Joseph Westcott settles at Grand Lake

1871-1872: Clarence King surveys area

1873-1874:  F.V. Hayden surveys area

1874: Creation of Grand County (two years before Colorado became a state)

1874: Toll roads opens over Rollins and Berthoud Passes

1874: William H. Jackson, renowned photographer, takes first photographs of Middle Park

1875 – 1888
1875: First mail routes to Hot Sulphur Springs

1875: Silver ore indications in Never Summer Range

1875: First school opens in Hot Sulphur Springs with 12 students, (school “year” was 20 days)

1877: Routt County detached from Grand County

1877: Stokes-Dean political crisis

1878: Tabernash and Abraham Elliott killed

1879: Ute Indian War produces excitement, anxiety

1879: Lulu City & Teller City formed

1880: Gaskill City formed

1881: Four railroad projects frustrated

1881: County Seat moves to Grand Lake, height of mining boom,   Grand Lake Prospector is launched

1883: Commissioner shootings at Grand Lake

1884: Shooting of Texas Charlie in Hot Sulphur Springs

1884: Kremmling formed

1885: Kremmling Post Office opens

1885-1886: Collapse of mining, North Park separates from Grand County

1888: County Seat moves back to Hot Sulphur Springs

1889 – 1904
Expansion of ranching

Development of public education

1890: Grand Ditch construction begins... carries water from Grand Lake mountains to the front range

1891: First platting of Kremmling

1891: Berthoud Pass route becomes state road

1893: Construction begins on Byers Canyon road

1896 et seq.: Organized religious congregations develop

1892: First diversion of water to eastern slope

1898: First high school opens in Kremmling

1902-1904:  Moffat – Harriman struggle

1903: Hot Sulphur Springs incorporates

1904: Kremmling incorporates

1904: Moffat Road crosses Rollins Pass

1904: First motor car arrives Grand County

1904: First telephones installed

1905 – 1914
1905: First Forest Reserves

1905: Fraser develops, Granby is founded

1905: Moffat Road reaches Hot Sulphur Springs

1905: Parshall is founded

1906: Moffat Road reaches Kremmling

Proliferation of competitive newspapers

1905-1908: Heyday of Monarch

1908: Arapaho National Forest established

1911: First Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Carnival

1912: First Middle Park Fair

1913: Eleven motor vehicles are registered in Grand County

1913: Tabernash established as railroad division point

1915 – 1930
1915: Rocky Mountain National Park founded

1917-1918: Participation in World War I by 151 Grand County residents

1918-1919: Influenza epidemic

1919: Grand County Pioneer Society founded

1919: Fall River Road completed

1921: Grand River name changed to Colorado River by U.S. Congress

1922: First radio receiver

1923: Gore Pass opens to motor vehicles

1923: Improved Berthoud Pass road opens

1923-1928: Moffat Tunnel built

1926: Fred Selak murder

1929-1941: The Great Depression

1930-1932: Berthoud kept open all winter

1932: Trail Ridge Road completed

Since 1930
1938: Colorado-Big Thompson irrigation and power project begins

1940: Winter Park Ski Area opens

1941-1945: Participation in WWII

Late 1940s – early 1950s: Construction of Colorado– Big Thompson Project

1947: Adams Tunnel in operation

Growth, then boom, of winter sports

 

Grand County Trivia
Grand County Trivia

After 1879 there were no Native Americans in Grand County.

In the 1800, the leading cause of death in Grand County was accidents followed by pneumonia.

Between 1887 and 1902, Grand County had no divorces.

The total resident population of Grand County in 1900 was 741.  The average life expectancy was 47 years.

Winters in Grand County often were severe, but nothing as terrible as the winter of 1898-1899.  Warm weather preceded the storm which began on February 2nd.  Four feet of snow fell by that first evening and the residents did not see the sun for the rest of the month as the snow continued to fall.  The snow continued into March and April and while few residents died, but the loss of livestock was tremendous.

Articles to Browse

Jim Bridger

Jim Bridger spent quite a bit of time in Grand County and has been cited as "one of the three or four most able, influential, and best known mountain men' according to historian Dan Thrapp.  Born in Virginia in 1804, he was apprenticed to a blacksmith in St Louis at the age of fourteen, and in 1822, left to join Ashley's fur trading operation in the Yellowstone area of Wyoming. He claimed to have discovered the Great Salt Lake in 1824, believing it to be an arm of the Pacific Ocean.  He was a co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, along with Tom Fitzpatrick and Milton Sublette. 

While Bridger was illiterate, he was noted for both his intimate knowledge of the Rocky Mountains and his prevarications to impress newcomers.  He was engaged in some battles with Indians, but was married to two Indian women; a Ute woman who died in childbirth, and then Shoshone women who bore him two children.

Jim's friendship with Louis Vasquez led to construction of a fort named Fort. Bridger on the Green River in Wyoming.  As a guide, he led the infamous expedition of Sir George Gore through Grand County in 1855, in which Gore killed many thousands of animals and birds.  During the excursion, he would join Gore for luxurious dinners with fine table service and discussions of Shakespeare.  Bridger hired a teenaged boy to read him some of Shakespeare's plays but thought that many of the story lines were just "too vicious or ridiculous". 

He was one of the most sought after guides of the West during his lifetime and guided American troops in the so called Mormon War of 1857-8.  In his later years, Bridger acquired a farm near Westport Missouri, gradually became blind and died in 1873.  His two sons buried him in the present Kansas City, but in 1904, his remains were moved to Mountain Washington Cemetery in Independence Missouri.    Jim Bridger is immortalized with his name being given to many places in the West.

Topic: Railroads

Train Legends of the Moffat Road

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

The railroaders graded and bridged the trails originally made by the Indians and expanded by the trappers, prospector and stage road builders that following in rapid succession. The

Moffat Road
train track has an almost endless series of wreck stories and legends.  In one, a "green clerk" was said to have piled all the mail order catalogs on the same side of a car, causing the train to leave the tracks and roll down the mountainside into Yankee Doodle Lake.

 

In another lost train story, the No. 3 westbound was seven hours late out of Denver because of a severe winter blizzard.  It crept out of the Fraser Canyon and whistled for the Granby Crossing.  The engineer parked the train intending to wait till daylight to continue on.  In the meantime, the No. 2 eastbound, 2 days late out of Craig reached Corona without passing the No. 3. In the morning, all were amazed to find the train parked "plumb center" of Granby's main street. Later investigation showed that the No. 3 train left the train tracks just east of Granby and traveled almost a mile over frozen highway.  The next day a Chinook wind came up and melted the frozen soil, sinking the train to it's axles in mud. It required the building of 1500 feet of special track to salvage the train. However, some longtime Granby residents say the locale of this incident was the Kremmling flats.

 

Sources: Roland L. Ives, Folklore of Middle Park Colorado,Journal of American Folklore, Vol. XXXIV, Nos. 211, 212, 1941; Levette J. Davidson & Forrester Blake, Rocky Mountain Tales, University of Oklahoma Press, 1947

     

 

Topic: Leisure Time

Grand Lake Yacht Club

Grand County often attracts adventurous spirits who prefer its splendid isolation to Wal-Mart and fast food. Others, who never make the leap of faith to live here, enjoy it as a familiar playground, returning regularly to enjoy its vast mountain ranges and unlimited outdoor opportunities.

It has to come many as a surprise to learn that Grand Lake, Colorado - nestled next the Continental Divide at over 8,300 feet elevation - has had a yacht club for over one hundred years! When this adventure began, back in 1902, there was only a stage road into the southeast corner of Grand County over Berthoud Pass. Grand Lake is situated next to the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, at the far northeast corner of the county, with the rugged backbone of the continent directly to the north and east. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was a summer vacation spot with few full-time residents. Summer visitors and full-time residents alike recognized the grandeur of the their surroundings, and Grand Lake very early became a summer home to many of Denver's elite, and the summer business they brought helped support the local economy.

It was a few enthusiastic Denverites with a keen interest in Grand Lake and sailing who organized the Grand Lake Yacht Club over 100 years ago. The founders included Richard Crawford Campbell, who married Senator Thomas Patterson's daughter and became the business manager of his father's newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News; William Henry Bryant, a Denver lawyer who was active in both sailing and Colorado politics; J. Fermor Spencer, a close friend of Mr. Bryant and long-time treasurer of the club; and William Bayard Craig, who enjoyed a broad education and had been the Chancellor of Duke University before he became interested in "acquiring land in Colorado."  By the end of 1902, according to Denver papers, "the first bona fide yacht club between the Mississippi river and the Pacific ocean" was in operation.

An atmosphere of excitement and pageantry swept over Grand Lake during the early Regatta weeks, when the Yacht Club held its annual races. In Denver, The Friday Evening Times proclaimed during August of 1904, "Yachting season is here", and went on to describe the "enthusiastic cottagers gathered on shore" around Grand Lake to cheer for the yachts. In 1907, Regatta week included yacht racing as well as foot races, donkey races and bronco busting. When the yacht races ended, the boat captain who won the most races had earned the Colorado Cup.

The Grand Lake Yacht Club's small sailing fleet during Regatta week - three days of racing during mid-August - sometimes included only a handful of boats during its first decade or so. Still, according to one observer, "the organization has more spirit to the square foot than I ever saw exhibited before." Races on the first day of Regatta week, 1905, illustrate the enthusiasm well. In the hotly contested first race of Regatta week, Robert Campbell's Highball, built in Racine, Wisconsin, tossed her two-man crew into the icy waters of Grand Lake when she capsized while running in second place. Shortly after, the third place yacht, Duchess, went over too, leaving the Chicago-built Dorothy II captained by Commodore Bryant the first and only boat to cross the home buoy.

Today, Dorothy O'Donnell O'Ryan, Commodore Bryant's granddaughter, maintains her family's summer home in Grand Lake. In 2002, she published Sailing Above the Clouds: An Early History of the Grand Lake Yacht Club, which chronicles the club's first 50 years. Her Colorado roots go back to Colorado territory's last, and the state of Colorado's first Governor, John Long Routt, who was appointed by President Grant in 1875, the year before Colorado became a state. Knowing the early history as she does, and the difficulties inherit with mountain transportation, O'Ryan marvels at "the logistics" of bringing sailboats built in Racine, Wisconsin or Chicago, Illinois over the Continental Divide into Grand County, Colorado by rail and stage road.

Home-built crafts, both crude and highly crafted, competed as well. Many of the first home-built boats were modified rowboats, "with homemade sails and masts." Observing the annual Regatta week in August of 1904, though, Arthur Johnson called attention to "the Jessica, a 16-foot boat belonging to the vice-commodore and built at Grand Lake" that sported "a sail that would have done credit to a venturesome Lipton on the high seas."

If a sailboat in Grand Lake during 1904 "done credit to a venturesome Lipton," Sir Thomas Lipton himself returned the favor tenfold in 1912. It so happened in 1912 that Lipton was traveling by train across the United States and would pass through Denver on his journey. Probably, Sir Thomas had met the well-traveled and enthusiastic yachtsman, William H. Bryant (Grand Lake Yacht Club Commodore) at the New York Yacht Club. Continued correspondence between the two resulted in the Grand Lake Yacht Club inviting Sir Thomas to the Denver Club for dinner in December of 1912, sponsored, of course, by the Grand Lake Yacht Club. Before he left that evening, flattered by the warm welcome he received, Lipton had proffered a silver cup to the Grand Lake Yacht Club.

Lipton became a yachting icon during the early 20th century. His sportsmanship was nearly unparalleled in the sport and he spent most of 30 years and millions of dollars trying to win the America's Cup. Thoroughly devoted to yachting as a sport and highly capable in the art of advertising, Lipton spread his Lipton Cups "around the globe" to promote the sport and himself.  His gift to the Grand Lake Yacht Club energized the young organization.

Today, the boathouse of the Grand Lake Yacht Club still reminds visitors and members of the organization's heritage. Built in 1912 by Grand County pioneer Preston Smith on land donated by fellow pioneer Jake Pettingell, the lakefront log structure sits in the midst of magnificent mountain scenery, with the dramatic peaks of the Continental Divide to the west and north and the Never Summer mountain range to the west.

As the club matured, it began to offer more races to more members and guests throughout the summer season. The original Regatta week still exists as the most important, and festive, event. Races were added, though, in 1912 with the Adams Cup; in 1914, the Lipton Cup was incorporated; in 1923, the inventor of the Sunshine Lamp (which Coleman Lanterns later bought out) presented the Hoffstot Cup; and in 1925, Dorothy Bryant O'Donnell offered the Bryant Cup in honor of the late first Commodore, W. H. Bryant. Well over 20 cups or trophies now highlight the Grand Lake Yacht Club's season. Throughout its evolution the Club has remained as unique as the dramatic physical environment that surrounds it and the people who envisioned and created it.

Topic: Indians

Bear Dance Ceremony

The unrest and hard feelings between the Indians and settlers in Middle Park gave rise to an inevitable conflict the last week of August, 1878. About forty Utes, led by Piah and Washington, started to set up camp in William Cozens’ meadow, near Fraser, taking fence poles to make fires. Cozens drove them off, telling them to replace the poles and leave. The Utes moved down valley about five miles to a spring not far from Junction Ranch (named for the junction of the Rollins Pass and Berthoud Pass wagon roads).

There, Johnson Turner, who leased that land, became increasingly uneasy as the Indians were drinking heavily and expressing anger that Ouray given away their land in treaties with the white man. They wanted Turner to pay them for the hay he was cutting. They tore down his fences for firewood, turned their 100 horses into his meadow, and set up camp. They also laid out a race track on drier ground about a mile way.

Turner complained to the sheriff, Eugene Marker, who rounded up a posse of men, intending to remove the Indians or at least convince them to move on. Accompanying him, on September 1, were Frank Addison, a transient prospector, John Stokes, T.D. Livingston, and Frank Byers.  The posse found only women and children at the camp, since the Ute men were at the race course. Marker, the sheriff, ordered the encampment searched for firearms and when the Ute men returned, an angry confrontation ensued. 

Tabernash and Frank Addison exchanged threats, and Tabernash jumped from his horse and snatched one of the guns piled on the ground. Frank Addison immediately shot him. Tabernash tried to pull his rifle from its scabbard, but that it became entangled, and Addison then fired twice more. Tabernash slumped over the neck of his pony, which ran away through the willows. Apparently Addison recognized Tabernash as the Indian responsible for the killing several of his companions while trapping furs on Grizzly Fork in North Park six years earlier.

After this bloodshed, the posse persuaded the rest of the Utes to leave, after they buried Tabernash’s body in a shallow grave. No one was ever sure where Tabernash was buried. There was a rumor that the slain Tabernash was buried in a draw not far from Junction Ranch, but when the Grand County Historical Association excavated the site, nothing was found.

A day later, September 3, on a Ranch near Kremmling, Abraham Elliott was shot while cutting wood, and his horses stolen.  In response, the posse moved north in the direction of the White River Reservation. 60 Utes met the posse, and explained that the culprits were Piah and Washington, neither of whom was a part of the White River band.  Ultimately, the Utes signed a council report, returned horses stolen from the Elliott ranch, while the  ranchers returned guns confiscated from the Utes at Junction Ranch.  The matter was considered legally settled, but outrage and fear continued among the settlers and the Utes of the area.

In 1902, E.A. Meredith, chief engineer for the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad, named the town that had grown up with the building of the railroad, after the slain Ute, Tabernash.

Topic:

Mountain Men and Trappers

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

Many noted fur trappers and traders are reported to have been familiar with the headwaters of the Grand (Colorado) River as early as the 1820s.  Among them were Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jim Beckwurth, Christopher “Kit “Carson, Henry Fraeb and Peter Sarpy.

Louis Vasquez built a trading fort on the South Platte River and ventured into what is now Grand County to trade with the Utes.  A pass east of Berthoud Pass is named for him and his trading post was located at the site of modern Winter Park.  His partner, Andrew Sublette, also came across the Divide to trade in Grand County, as well as Ceran St. Vrain, whose fort was near modern Platteville.

26 year old Tom Smith was with a group of trappers who entered the northern part of Grand County in 1827, where they were attacked by either Ute or Arapahoe Indians.  Tom was hit in the leg by an arrow, splitting the bone and creating a life threatening infection.  Amputation was needed but none of the party had the nerve to perform the operation.  So Tom took a butcher knife and amputated his own leg.  As “Pegleg Smith” Tom later became noted as one of the greatest horse thieves in the West, but was never prosecuted.

The beaver trade was essentially over by the 1840s as silk replaced beaver pelt as the stylish material for top hats.  In 1842, famed traveler Rufus Sage came over Muddy Pass into Middle Park, but recorded almost no hunting activity there.  On the other hand …fishing was great!  His party caught over 50 pounds of trout in one morning.

Noted mountain man Jim Bridger and another guide, Joseph Chatillon, let the infamous Sir George Gore on an extravagant hunting expedition in Middle Park.  Despite the senseless slaughter of thousands of game animals, Gore has been immortalized with a mountain range, canyon and pass named for him.

One of the earliest of the mountain men to discover what was to become Grand County arrived in the Fraser Valley as early as 1860, soon after gold was discovered in Colorado.  Charley Utter, known as “Colorado Charley”, was considered the prototype of rough trappers and traders.  He was unique, though, in that he insisted on taking a bath every day, whether in the hot springs or beneath frigid waterfalls.  In 1864, Charley was one of the first to make use of Berthoud Pass driving cattle that he raised at Troublesome Creek. His home was host to various adventurers who came to explore the prospects of Middle Park. He would eventually work with the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, appearing in “Wild West” shows.

When Kentuckian Beverly D. William spent some time in Grand County, he realized the Grand River was originally named the Colorado.  As a Washington delegate from the newly organized “Jefferson Territory” (as this area was known at the time), he was instrumental in getting the named changed to the “Colorado Territory”, although the river was called Grand River until 1921.      

Sources:
Carl Ubbulode, Maxine Benson & Duane Smith, A Colorado History, Pruett Press, 1972
Agnes Spring Wright, Colorado Charlie, Wild Bill's Partner, Pruett Press, 1968
Hazel Gresham, North Park, Self Published, 1975
R.C. Black, Island in the Rockies, Pruett Publishing Co., 1969
Abbott Fay, To Think That This Happened In Grand County, Grand County Historical Association, 1999

 

Topic: Grand County

Grand County

Grand County was established in 1874 by the Territory of Colorado, thus becoming a county two years before Colorado became a state. It was named for the Grand River, the name by which the Colorado River was known at that time. The headwaters of the today’s Colorado River are in Grand County. The county was formed from a portion of Summit County but acquired its current boundaries in 1877, when part of the Grand County was used to create Routt County. The county seat is Hot Sulphur Springs. The area of 1,854 square miles consists of meadows, river valleys and mountains.

Topic: Mountains

Mount Craig

The rounded mountain at the head of the East Inlet to Grand Lake has born many names-from Middle Mountain, to Mount Baldy, to Mount Westcott. It's official title, however, is Mount Craig. It's namesake is The Reverend William Bayard Craig, who came to the area in 1882, to be pastor of the Central Christian Church in Denver. He visited Grand Lake occasionally, and completed some real estate dealings there. The town of Craig also bears his name, due to the influence of his friend, David Moffat, of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad.

Topic: Places

Grand County

Grand County was established in 1874 by the Territory of Colorado, thus becoming a county two years before Colorado became a state. It was named for the Grand River, the name by which the Colorado River was known at that time. The headwaters of the today’s Colorado River are in Grand County. The county was formed from a portion of Summit County but acquired its current boundaries in 1877, when part of the Grand County was used to create Routt County. The county seat is Hot Sulphur Springs. The area of 1,854 square miles (larger than Rhode Island) consists of meadows, river valleys and mountains.
 

Topic: Biographies

Joseph Wescott

Joseph Wescott was born in 1838 in Nova Scotia and reared in Iowa.  By 1865, he was in Middle Park, squatting, half-blind and semi-alcoholic, in Hot Sulphur Springs with his friend Charlie Utter.  

Having come to Colorado to get relief from rheumatism, he passed his time in creative writing, fishing, drinking, and shooting his revolver.  In 1868, after being induced to sell all of his claims of 160 acres around the hot springs, he left Hot Sulphur Springs to go to Grand Lake.

In 1870, a group of Arapahoe Indians arrived in the area and there is an unverified report that Wescott, Jack Sumner, and three fishermen killed “not less than five” of the Indians.  Soon after this incident, Wescott settled into developing a rustic resort with cabins, rafts, canoes, and skiffs on Grand Lake.

By 1879, he had three buildings on the West Shore. In July 1880, disaster struck when Edward Phillips Weber, an attorney, took over Wescott’s original filing as his own.  Weber claimed that there were “flaws in the filing” and forced Wescott out.

Nevertheless, on June 26, 1888, Wescott filed a plat for “Grand Lake City,” on the lake shore south from the inlet.  He designed the area for summer visitors rather than as a residential community. 

Wescott later wrote a famous poem about the legend of Grand Lake, and how the spirits of the lost Ute women and children can still be heard wailing on foggy mornings at the lake shore.
 

The Norton Family

From his earliest memories, Mike Norton recalls playing with model ships and submarines with his older brother. His older brother had a ship, and he had the sub. The small pond on the Circle H ranch where he spent his early life before Lake Granby filled up gave little boys' imaginations an ocean. Marbles gave them depth charges. "But I could never find a way to shoot marbles from the sub," Norton laughingly remembers. As the water literally rose above his home, it shaped his life.

The history of Lake Granby and the Norton Marina goes as deep as the water, literally. Grand County's pioneer ranching history lurks at the lake's bottom, sharing its place with rainbow trout amid the vast water supply for eastern Colorado and beyond. Before the lake filled up as part of the Colorado Big Thompson project, ranches like the Lehmans, Knights and Harveys had been stage stops, cattle and dude ranches and even an airstrip used by Charles Lindbergh.

Mike's dad Frank came to Grand County to ranch. "All I ever really wanted to do  first was to be a rancher here," Frank Norton told the Sky-Hi News back in 1997. At fifteen or sixteen years old, Frank Norton in a Model T Roadster traveled from Okmulgee, Oklahoma to Grand County, where he "fell in love" with the ranch that his mother and step-father started around 1930. The Circle H, started by his step-father Jim Harvey in the valley that is now Lake Granby, became his summer home.

By all accounts, Frank Norton loved ranching. The Circle H "was a working ranch and a dude ranch." Harvey's ranch provided a spectacular backdrop highlighted by the Indian Peaks, reaching 13,000 ft high along the Continental Divide. The Circle H offered a caricature map for tourists looking for a real western experience. It led them over Berthoud Pass along hwy 40 to hwy 34 and then right at the Circle H sign to the Ranch. Leaving on horses from the Circle H, Frank Norton and Jim Harvey took them into a vast and remarkable country that, for the most part, can only be reached on foot today.

In those days, the area now protected as the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area faced less threats from overuse. Ranchers hunted the region to supplement the sometimes skinny winter rations. "Jim Harvey shot two elk from his saddle," Mike Norton proudly recalls of his grandfather as we look at a romantic image of Harvey on horseback. Nowadays, quotas limit use through the peak season. The National Park and Forest Service restrict horse traffic and campfires as well. Early Harvey and Norton history highlight a different time and place, when the remote reaches of Indian Peaks could still be reached by trusting a cowboy with a Winchester rifle to get you there and back safely.

For Mike Norton, the water that drowned out his family's ranching history also floated Norton Marina. Going from ranching to the marina business may seem an odd transition, but Mike's family history shows how flexible they were! Frank Norton spent his early youth traveling with his father's tent show, Norton's comedians. "Dad had such funny stories about that," Mike says. When the traveling troupe era ended (talkies and the Great Depression meant "they didn't eat too well sometimes"), Frank Norton moved to Oklahoma with his father before finally joining his mother and Jim Harvey in Grand County.  

Regardless of his occupation, Frank Norton was a showman. Remarkable old photos save the rich history of pack trips into the Indian Peaks area, camp sites on the shores Lake Monarch and rich harvests of rainbow trout. But Frank Norton and his horse Oak rearing high like the lone ranger really show Frank Norton's flare and charisma.

In many ways, Norton Marina continued the Circle H's heritage. Frank's marina included the Gangplank, a restaurant and dancehall that looked like a boat, with porthole windows and originally a rainbow trout aquarium for the bar. His admiral's hat, which Mike still has today, replaced his cowboy hat and a 25 foot Chris Craft named the Bonnie B replaced old Oak as his ride. More or less, this is the world in which Mike Norton grew up.

Growing up Frank's son meant work too. "I was 8 or 10 years old" when we started "Norton's Ark," Mike smiles, referring to the Gangplank restaurant. It was the early fifties in Grand County. "What backhoe?"

No bailouts either! "Those first few years, I nearly starved to death," Frank Norton once told a reporter. "But," he added, "every year the business kept growing and before I knew it we had a good marina going." Before it was over, Norton Marina fulfilled Frank's dream of a family business, only in "boating recreation" instead of ranching!

"It wasn't all roses," Mike agrees. As a boy, Frank Norton went to military school. "They disciplined him and he used the same technique on his kids." Frank expected his kids to help and to obey his commands, without question. Using Tide and a G.I. scrub brush, Mike Norton recalls scrubbing lower units. They painted wooden boats in the wintertime in the shop. The kids came in from school, changed clothes and started working. "Dad and mom had a lot of kids cause they needed a crew!"

Maybe his most memorable job was cleaning out the septic tanks for the cabins that his dad built to help offset the lack of income at a Rocky Mountain marina during winter. After digging up the lids, "dad would put a ladder into the septic tanks." Then, Mike crawled in and shoveled out the waste while his dad hoisted the buckets out. "I was so glad when Ernie Seipps started his septic clean out business," Mike says as we motor along beside Grand Elk Marina's covered docks on a pontoon boat.

The hard work and experience at the marina paid off when Mike joined the military. Like so many of his generation, Mike received his notice to join ground forces in Vietnam. Luckily, about that time, Navy recruiters were in Granby. They showed a strong interest in a National Honors Society student who lived a life on water! The pieces of the puzzle fit, and "that got me in the Navy," says Mike with real appreciation.

In 1973, the family tradition passed on to Mike and his brother Frank when they bought the marina business from their dad. A lifetime of experience came with them. But it took more than dock maintenance, boat service and customer service to run Norton Marina. And, as the brothers took over, the old Admiral Frank Norton stayed in the house he had built next door to the gangplank, insuring that his strong personality was never far away.

Lots of obstacles exist for a marina on public lands. As Mike took over sole ownership from his brother, he also fought to bring the marina under the National Forest Service instead of the National Park Service, which effectively removed the "power of condemnation." "We had to fight for our livelihood," Mike explained when he sold the Marina in January of 1997.

Mother Nature challenged the marina too. Ice might remain on the water for half of May. June snowstorms blow in monster clouds, as awe-inspiring as the calm sunsets. Freezing rain rips into all but the best prepared boaters nearly any time of year, and hailstorms can hit in a heartbeat. "We're like farmers in that way," Mike recalled. "Drought, winters, high water, low water, you can't really help, we understand that."

On the other hand, the glassy waters of Lake Granby reflect the awe-inspiring Indian Peaks along the Continental Divide on calm, sunny days. Tourists and locals try their luck catching the Mackinaw that makes it attractive to sportsmen and women. Intrepid wake boarders mix with sweet sailboats against a beautiful background of rugged peaks that reach high above tree line. On those days, it's hard to think of a more spectacular place.

Through it all, Mike Norton clearly enjoyed his life at Norton Marina. "I liked being out in the elements with the boating public."  He also counts the independence of self-employment and the uniqueness of the marina as blessings in his "good life."

Grand Elk runs the marina today (2009). Its operation rents out slips and moorings, daily pontoon boats and other related services. It's as beautiful as ever to peer across the lake at sunrise in August, and it's as cold and forbidding as ever when the winter winds whip across the thick ice an snow of the lake in January. Few wooden hulls appear during summer season as in the old days, but beautiful boats, both motor and sail, still surround the Marina.

Yes, its original character remains, not far from the surface. The Gangplank changed its name to Mackinaws, where customers in the main room still look out portholes across the lake to the rugged outline of Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, although there is no longer as much space on the dance floor. Those familiar with Indian Peaks recognize old Abe Lincoln lying in his grave along the Continental divide, where Mike's early ranching family led pack trips and today can still be reached, albeit under more controlled circumstances. Today's anchored concrete docks and gas dock continue the process that started with Frank Norton using finger docks that Mike staked in the ground and an old chicken coup from the Circle H to fuel boats.

And in all of Grand Elk Marina's features and history, Frank Norton and his family exist. In the house that they built on site where all of his children were photographed as they grew up and as they graduated from Middle Park High School. In the restaurant where Mike remembers finding the nerve to ask pretty young gals to dance. And, in the numerous family photos that show a smiling, handsome Frank Norton and his attractive family surrounded by high mountains, wooden Chris Craft and a sense of high expectations.

Mike remembers his dad as the "greatest storyteller I've ever known," which he used to his advantage in all occupations. In 2001, I met Frank Norton, only once before he died the next year. He told us about the time Jim Harvey knocked the federal agent who came to tell take their land away to the floor, placed a foot on his chest and said, "If you get up, I'll knock you down again." We could see it happening as he told the story more than 50 years later.

But the story continues beyond Frank Norton. From traveling tents shows to dude ranches to a forty-plus year family run marina, the Nortons made one of Grand County's most enduring "institutions." Entertaining, industrious, and life-loving, Mike simply says, "It's been a really good life." And that's a family tradition.

Grand County