From sage grouse to skiing

Historical tour showcases area's gems

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For some, the day started at 4:30 a.m. Others were lucky enough to wait until 5:15.

All said, the early morning trek to California Park to see sage grouse roosting in their leks was worth it.

Nearly 20 people boarded a bus Friday in Hayden for a daylong tour that took them through five of the 10 communities participating in an effort to advance a cultural heritage tourism program in Northwest Colorado.

Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties have partnered to provide tourist experiences based on the area's culture and heritage. Volunteers already have brainstormed several themes, including agriculture, energy and history, which link the communities.

Friday was their chance to experience them.

According to Division of Wildlife District Wildlife Man--ager Jim Haskins, there are 200 to 300 people who visit Northwest Colorado each year to view sage grouse. This area is unique because a person can find three different varieties of the bird within a two-mile stretch.

"There's truly probably no other place in the state where you can do that," he said. "There are a lot of opportunities to view wildlife here."

Haskins suggested the group consider CHT opportunities that focus on ecotourism. He said the DOW could help by putting some money toward the effort.

"I really believe if you start actively advertising this, we'd have more people than we can handle," he said.

Nearly 40 sage grouse were spotted in the lek to which Haskins led the group. Most were males. Breeding season is over, but they couldn't help showing off anyway, repeatedly puffing their chests by filling the air sacks that lie beneath the feathers.

"A lot of people come to see these birds because they fear someday they won't be around," he said.

From the leks, the group returned to Hayden for lunch catered by Full Belly Deli and then on to a tour of Walnut Street, which museum employees are working to get designated as a historical main street.

The plan is to restore many of the old buildings to their original appearances in an effort to draw visitors downtown.

Down the road, the town of Yampa -- population 300 -- faces a dilemma about historical designation. Many of the town's buildings from the early 1900s still are standing, and some residents fear they'll lose local control if the town receives the designation.

Yampa is a small town that history did not demolish.

Visitors can tour the A.C. Bower Mercantile, built in 1888 and still used for the same purpose, though the name has changed to Montgomery's General Merchandise.

Or, they can see the original parsonage for the congregational church, which as built in 1904 on Moffat Avenue, but moved in 1971 to serve as a residence.

The town boasts several original buildings that are no longer in their original places. One was built facing one direction and later was moved slightly to face another direction so that it could accommodate gasoline pumps.

The town was started to serve farmers and ranchers and still does, though hunting is a large part of its economy.

In the Oak Creek area, its mining history is apparent. Local historians can point out the location of wagon mines and corporate mining camps, as well as how they contributed to the birth of the town.

The town was started by the Oak Creek Land and Mining Company and today boasts the Miners Wall to honor those who died. Today, the town is known for its hot nightlife and good food.

Steamboat Springs was the final stop. There, participants toured the Tread of Pioneers Museum and took a walking tour to see the historical buildings, including those built by Carl Howelsen, who also established the Howelsen Hill ski area. In fact, "Howelsen" himself interrupted the tour to tell about his voyage from Norway to the United States, and eventually to Steamboat.

The second leg of the bus tours, a two-day trek through Mt. Harris, Craig, Rangely, Meeker, Dinosaur and Maybell will be May 20 and 21. The cost is $10 per person and there are seats available. Reserve one by e-mailing Winnie DelliQuadri at wdelliquadri@steamboatsprings.net or by calling 871-8257.

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