Seventy years ago, Coach Bill Allen and his wife Dorothy started a legacy in the hills south of Florissant. Blue Mountain Ranch began as a football camp for boys from Texas and is now a home away from home for children from around the world.
Back in 1946, while Allen was coaching football at Paschal High School in Fort Worth, TX, he purchased an old potato farm for $20 an acre in a remote part of Colorado. He bought an old school bus and drove young men from Dallas/Fort Worth, Wichita Falls, and Amarillo up to the mountains for a couple weeks of athletic training every summer. Coach Allen and his wife felt the need to help young people mature and learn how to make good choices. Over the years their football camp at Blue Mountain Ranch grew into a full summer youth recreation program.
In addition to managing a large group of rowdy teenage boys, Coach and Mrs. Allen brought their two small daughters with them to camp every summer. Gail was born in 1946 and Suzie arrived in 1950. Suzie Allen Graf, now the camp’s owner and director, has many fond memories of the early years at Blue Mountain Ranch.
The Allen family stayed in a little cabin back then, with only a wood stove for cooking and heat. Graf remembers her mother saying, “I didn’t sign up for this!” There was no phone at first, but folks could call the Florissant post office and post mistress Dorothy Erb would drive out to camp to deliver a message. Electricity was provided by a generator that was supposed to run until 10 p.m. Sometimes the power would be turned off early, leaving campers stranded mid-shower with no more running water!
The first new building at Blue Mountain Ranch was Beaver Lodge. The football players built it themselves. The lodge included sleeping rooms, a kitchen, and a dining area, but there was no refrigeration back then. Food was kept cool in an ice box filled with ice cut in Lake George. Mrs. Allen drove to Colorado Springs to get groceries two or three times a week.
As more kids came to camp and other coaches came to help out, cabins and dormitories were built to house them. Other buildings have been added over the years as well, including the current dining hall in 1956 and the office in 1957. The swimming pool came around 1960. Graf remembers that she was the first one in, but the water was unheated and she nearly froze!
The first girls came to BMR in 1972 when Camp Wanaka, a girl’s camp in Woodland Park near today’s Woodland Park Community Church, was closed. That first summer the girls stayed at the old Beaver Lodge. The first women’s dorm was built the next year.
At a 70th anniversary party for Blue Mountain Ranch held earlier this year in Fort Worth, TX, Graf spent almost two hours welcoming a steady stream of well-wishers. The guests included some of the original campers from the 1940s, who have since sent their children and grandchildren to camp at BMR.
“Blue Mountain Ranch is different because it is an interpersonal experience. Our campers think of us as part of their families,” said Graf.
Blue Mountain Ranch is now the oldest private camp in the Teller/Park County area and one of the oldest kid’s camps in Colorado. Activities today include football and other sports of course, as well as horseback riding, a high ropes course, fishing, canoeing, archery, camping, swimming, and much more. While they are at camp, kids unplug from their high tech gadgets and have fun playing outdoors, exploring new experiences, and building friendships. Many high school students have had their first jobs there, becoming counselors after being campers themselves. That includes Graf’s own sons, Tim and David Graf, who are gradually taking on the management of the camp, and plan to continue their family’s legacy.
In honor of the camp’s anniversary, Graham Badger, a retired teacher who tutors students at Columbine Elementary in Woodland Park, has provided funds for a Blue Mountain Ranch Scholarship. Five local students have received partial tuition for a week at camp this June. The students were chosen based on an essay and financial need. The idea is to help kids who might not otherwise be able to go to camp enjoy a week at BMR.
If you would like your children to share the good times at Blue Mountain Ranch this summer, there is still time to enroll. Camp runs in three sessions from June 10 through August 7. Kids are welcome to attend for a week or all summer. For more information, visit the camp’s website at www.bluemountainranch.com or call (719) 748-3279.