In spite of an approaching blizzard, several hundred people gathered at the Ute Pass Cultural Center on January 21st to celebrate Woodland Park’s 125th anniversary. The event also marked the 40th anniversary of the Ute Pass Historical Society.
The afternoon began with a welcome by the chairman of Woodland Park’s historical preservation committee, former mayor Gary Crane. He was followed by current Mayor Neil Levy, who introduced special guests including state representative Polly Lawrence, former mayors Carrol Kenny, Al Borne, Clark Becker, and Steve Randolph, County Commissioner Norm Steen, and Woodland Park City Council members Carrol Harvey and Noel Sawyer.
A dozen members of the teen advisory board from the Woodland Park Teen Center looked sharp in white shirts and red bandanas as they served a buffet lunch of hot chili, cornbread and salad to the crowd. Live western music was performed by singer/guitarist Bill LaReau.
After lunch, two anniversary cakes were cut with wood saws by Ute Pass Historical Society President Donna Finicle and Mayor Levy, in honor of Woodland Park’s history as a lumber town. Finicle acknowledged the UPHS board of directors and volunteer docents, many of whom were dressed in period costumes. She next introduced local historian Larry Black who presented a photographic history of Woodland Park.
The cause of the celebration was an event that took place in December 1890. Local residents gathered at Baldwin’s store to vote whether or not to the incorporate their town. The vote may have been prompted by the need to build a water line from Loy Gulch into the local reservoir. Several local men may have decided to establish Woodland Park so they could get bond financing for the construction.
At that time, the locals were mostly ranchers or lumbermen working in the area sawmills. The Colorado Midland Railroad connected their little town to other growing communities in Ute Pass and beyond. First called Manitou Park, then Belmont, it finally became known as Woodland Park. Incorporation was approved by a vote of 24 to 14. Back then, there were only 122 inhabitants. 125 years later, it is estimated that over 8,000 people now call Woodland Park home.
Back in 1890, the newly minted Woodland Park was a busy place. Gold had been discovered in Cripple Creek that same year, and thousands of miners travelled through town on the Ute Pass Wagon Road or on the Colorado Midland. Five saw mills shipped vast amounts of lumber and railroad ties out on the train. Tourists flocked to the mountains in the summer, drawn by the cool weather and beautiful scenery. Eventually, the area became known for its rodeo and dude ranches, which brought in guests from all over the country.
The Ute Pass Historical Society was incorporated in November 1976 to preserve this history. It was started by Mary Ann Davis, Sandy Lampe, and Jan Pettit, who had organized an oral history program at the Cascade Library. The founding board of directors included members of some of the oldest local families; Hal Brown, Dorothy Conn, Irene Denny, Les Gaylor, Lois LaHaye, and Ralph Lofland.
The Ute Pass Historical Society’s first project was to place a dozen historical markers in Ute Pass, which can still be seen today. Their first museum was in a tiny cabin in Green Mountain Falls, originally part of the Brockhurst Riding Academy and now part of History Park. Today, UPHS is located next to the Woodland Park Library. History Park includes five historical buildings which guests can visit by appointment.
A second 125th anniversary event is planned for Saturday, February 13. The public is invited for a bonfire from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. along Center Street in the Bergstrom Park and Woodland Station areas. Bill LaReau will provide more excellent musical entertainment, and refreshments will be sold by the Historic Ute Inn. Other events may be planned throughout the year.