CUCHARA MOUNTAIN PARK
“And will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)”
- Dr. Seuss
The Cuchara Foundation (CF) is focused on preserving and sharing the history of the area and supporting projects to improve our lives. With those missions in mind, the following provides a history of one of the Foundation’s important projects: The Parker-Fitzgerald Cuchara Mountain Park has been one of our major projects.
The Park is a story of how a small non-profit, the community and our county collaborated to create a facility for locals and visitors to enjoy. We are proud to be part of this story and happy to provide the history of how the Park came to be and what preceded it.
Here’s the story.
The Cuchara Mountain Park sits at the base of an old ski resort that first opened in 1981 with a great deal of fanfare in the area. The first few years it offered two double chair lifts and a rope tow. Over the years it was popular with people from the neighboring flatlands, many of whom brought their families to learn to ski and enjoy Cuchara’s good life. The resort grew to include the popular, upscale Baker Creek Restaurant, shops with ski equipment and other items needed for recreation, and even a ski rental facility. Best of all, there were five ski lifts, several of which extended into USFS land high above the base.
A short summary gives an idea of the property’s history.
Operation Dates: 1981-1989; 1992-1994; 1995-1996; 1997-2000
Open 14 of the 16 years
Closed for 16 years before being divided up and sold for tax liens
Ticket prices in 1983 were $16 for adults and $14 for children for a full day of skiing!
Area Stats: 1984 - 1999
*Elevations: Top 10,810 ft, Base 9,248 ft, Vertical Drop 1,562 ft
*Terrain: Beg. 25%, Int. 50%, Exp. 25%, longest run 2.5 miles
*Lifts 2 tows (O'Connor), 1 triple (Riblet), 3 doubles (Riblet), capacity 5,000 p/h
*Average Snowfall: 200"
*Facilities: base, lodge, rentals, ski patrol, ski school, hotels & condos
For more details about the history and to view the source of this information visit http://www.coloradoskihistory.com/lost/cuchara.html
Unfortunately, as can be seen from the information above, due to economic trends, variable uncontrollable snow conditions, and other factors, the resort was closed for periods of time. The property changed names several times and had as many as nine owners. On July 4th 2000, the then owner closed the resort, leaving the community shocked and saddened. Buildings were abandoned and shuttered and all activities stopped.
After the July 4th collapse the property was never to open again, even though in 2010 it was purchased by a local who hoped to build it back to its former glory. His plans never came to fruition and the property continued to deteriorate. Finally, the resort went into tax liens and the situation became complicated as there were many land parcels, each with its own title. Thus, there wasn’t one tax lien out for bid but many, and it became apparent that this beautiful property would probably never run as one large resort again.
To see more of the history of the ski area and listen to interviews with some of the folks involved in running it, check out the movie Abandoned. This award-winning film was made by The Road West Traveled, three young people devoted to saving information from the early days of Colorado skiing. Find it at: https://www.theroadwesttraveled.com/abandoned-film
One piece of land that was purchased through the tax lien auctions was the 48-acre plot that formed the base of the ski area. It contained one lift entirely on the property and one lift partially on the plot and partially on USFS land. Also included in the property was the ski rental building and a couple of concrete storage buildings up the mountain to the west. The owners, Jerry and JoVonne Fitzgerald, originally placed the land for sale, much to the locals' concern. However, in 2016 conversations began between the Fitzgeralds, representatives of the Cuchara Foundation, and Huerfano County about the possibility of turning this parcel into a county park.
Jerry and JoVonne had owned a business in the county for years and Jerry had been Mayor in LaVeta, so they were committed to and invested in the welfare of Huerfano County. Conversations over coffee led to the Fitzgeralds agreeing to sell the property to the county at a price that made it possible to purchase for a community park. And therein lies the reason that the park’s official name is the Parker-Fitzgerald Cuchara Mountain Park! For ease in communication, it’s typically referred to as just “Cuchara Mountain Park” or CMP.
The challenge then, since Huerfano is a poor county, was how to come up with the money for the county to pay for the park. Enter the Cuchara Foundation. The CF board agreed to give a $25,000 grant to the county for the down payment on the land and then to ask the community to donate the remaining $125,000. In December 2016 the Huerfano Board of County Commissioners agreed to accept the donation for payment to purchase the land as a public park in perpetuity. Then serious fundraising began. Enter our community.
The CF led the campaign to raise the money to fully pay for the Park. The community responded enthusiastically and within nine months, on Labor Day 2017 the CF board handed the commissioners a check for the final payment.
Shortly thereafter, an 8-acre tract of land that extends east along Baker Creek and provides a delightful hiking/snowshoeing area was added to the Park. This brings the total size of the Park to almost 50 acres of beautiful, mostly vertical mountain terrain where aspen and pine trees abound, and the local wildlife make their home.
Since the beginning, volunteers have spent hours cleaning the property that had been unattended for so long. They renovated the ski rental shop and transformed it to a Day Lodge that is open with volunteer help on weekends. Volunteers also installed an 18-basket disc golf course with equipment purchased by the county. Next the old mini -golf course buildings were literally unearthed, cleaned,repaired, and then installed in their original locations by volunteers. Both courses are currently free for public play.
In 2017 a group from AmeriCorps spent six weeks working at the Park. They cleaned and improved a trail along the east side of the Park along Baker Creek, helped to upgrade the ski rental building to a Day Lodge and tore out an unsafe structure. Hard and important work.
Concurrent to the work by volunteers to improve the Park, a local non-profit, the Panadero Ski Corporation, began work to fix the old Lift 4 with the plan of getting state tram board certification to run the lift for weekend skiing. That work is currently underway and like all other Park projects is being accomplished mainly by volunteers and through donations. You can visit the Panadero Ski Corp’s website at https://www.skiingcuchara.org , or follow them on social media for more information: Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/panaderoskicorp or Facebook: https://facebook.com/panaderoskicorporation .
In the fall of 2020, Huerfano County received a Resilient Communities grant through Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), with the CF providing in-kind resources to make it possible. The focus of the grant is to provide opportunities for safe and healthy outdoor recreation and education at the Park. Included in the grant, were funds for a vault toilet (installed summer of 2021) and a large covered outdoor classroom-gathering space with a fireplace (not yet installed). The grant also made it possible to undertake a pilot project, the Huerfano Youth Conservation Corps, to train and attract area youth and then pay them for conservation work over the summer. In addition, a safety and educational outreach coordinator contract was covered by the grant to encourage educators to use the facilities and to develop procedures and conditions for a safe Park.
And so, efforts continue to improve the Cuchara Mountain Park. The Cuchara Foundation remains committed to being a conduit to fund infrastructure and other improvements through grants and individual contributions. In 2020 the CF received a grant from the Bar Ni Foundation for fire mitigation/trail cleaning at the Park which enabled us to hire four young people to do work on the mountain. With the leadership of local resident, David Vogel, the Foundation raised money to purchase and install a large bat house and interpretive signage at the Park. The Foundation also provided in-kind funds to the Resilient Communities Grant describe above and the board continues to set aside money for other grant matches that may become available.
One main infrastructure project that remains is to refurbish the old ski rental building which has undergone cleaning and repairs but requires additional work to make it even more enjoyable and functional. The CF plans to participate in this effort.
To donate to the ongoing Park projects, visit https://thecucharamountainpark.org/.