Staunton State Park’s much-anticipated opening weekend didn’t disappoint.
“It’s been crazy getting ready for this, but seeing people happy has made all of the blood, sweat and tears worth it,” said Jennifer Anderson, the park manager. “I couldn’t have asked for the weekend to be better.”
Originally slated to open in October 2012 but delayed by weather and construction issues, the park opened officially at 9 a.m. Saturday. Staff and volunteers had worked around the clock the past few weeks to prepare for the big day.
The 3,828-acre preserve north of Shaffers Crossing, Colorado’s 43rd state park, features rock formations, hiking trails and stunning vistas. Wildlife ranging from bears, mountain lions, snowshoe hares, moose and bobcats calls the park home.
“We had between 700 and 800 people (on Saturday),” Anderson said Sunday afternoon. “I expect we had more people (Sunday) because the parking lots are more full.”
To help with the large crowds, the Seniors’ Resource Center in Evergreen donated its shuttles to transport guests from Elk Creek Elementary and RTD’s Mountain View Park-n-Ride. Vince Ventimiglia drove a shuttle on Saturday and Sunday.
“I’ve heard nothing negative about the park so far,” Ventimiglia said as he drove into Staunton. “Everyone seems really happy with the location and quality of the park.”
After his weekend spent behind the wheel, Ventimiglia said he couldn’t wait to come back to Staunton and take in the park’s sights.
No shortage of events
The weekend schedule featured a bevy of activities. After designing crafts and getting their faces painted, kids tested their strength on a climbing wall and mastered the mini-obstacle course on mountain bikes.
Deanna Curtis, of Wild Wings, led a raptor presentation and showed off a peregrine — a type of falcon found in Staunton State Park.
“The peregrine falcon hunts ducks,” Curtis said as she brought the raptor close to spectators for a better look. “(Peregrines) either sink their talons into the duck or can literally punch a duck to disorient it.”
Of course, exploring a new state park can work up an appetite. The group picnic area provided some shade and a place for families to rest while they shared lunch.
Rex Rideout and Mark Gardner picked and strummed the tunes of the Old West. Songs like “Oh Susanna,” “Buffalo Gals” and “Ballad of Jesse James” provided the perfect soundtrack as families ate and sang along in the picnic area.
Whether on a bicycle, a horse or in hiking boots, trails are the key to discovering Staunton. No vehicles are allowed beyond the parking lots.
Barbara and Lukasz Kawecki made the 3-mile drive from Pine Junction and admired the “newness” of everything.
“It’s fun having new stuff to explore,” Barbara said as she and her husband took a break during their hike. “They did a great job building this park. We’ll be coming up here many times.”
Staunton volunteer Nancy Coburn and her husband, Bob, said the park offers beautiful scenery and a variety of trails.
“This place is magnificent,” Nancy said. “It’s so rewarding to finally be open and see people here enjoying the park.”
“Some of these trails are challenging, but some are also great for families,” Bob said.
Reeling ‘em in
Davis Ponds turned into the hot spot over the weekend. The ponds were stocked with large rainbow trout in anticipation of the big crowds and eager anglers.
Matt Carlson fished with his family, and he was lucky enough to catch a trout.
“The park is great,” Carlson said as he cast his line. “We went on a hike and checked out the picnic area.”
The Carlson family made the drive from Castle Pines in Douglas County — they just moved to Colorado from Chicago a few weeks ago.
“(My family and I) hope to get in the outdoors as much as we can,” Carlson said. “That’s the major reason why we moved here. In Chicago, you only get to do outdoor things half the year.”
Eagle Claw Fishing and members of Evergreen Trout Unlimited were on hand and supplied fishing gear for guests who didn’t bring their own.
“People are keeping what they catch today,” said Garrett Marquez of Eagle Claw Fishing. “There are some big ones out there.”
Cody Tengler and Son Nguyen drove up from Denver with a group of friends to take in the new park.
“We caught five rainbow trout,” Tengler said as passing hikers offered impressed nods at the sight of the large fish.
“I think our smallest is 14 inches,” Nguyen said.
Tengler was impressed with the park and said he plans to visit again soon.
“It’s cool being some of the first people in a state park,” he said. “It’s gorgeous here. We’re definitely coming back.”
A work in progress
Although Staunton’s gates are open, the park isn’t complete. A permanent visitor center and camping areas will be part of future construction phases, but Anderson said those phases are contingent on funding.
The park’s “jewel” — Elk Falls, which cascade more than 100 feet down a stunning rock face — can be viewed only from an overlook. A trail to Elk Falls is being planned.
“We’re hoping to start building the trail to Elk Falls this summer and have it completed by the fall,” Anderson said.
Staunton volunteer Nancy Coburn said the view of the falls from the overlook is well worth the 12-mile hike.
“Elk Falls is the epitome of what Staunton is all about,” she said. “It’s just beautiful.”
The Staunton legacy
On Friday, the day before the park’s official opening, a dedication ceremony was held to honor the Staunton family.
“The Staunton family loved this land,” Anderson said.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, state Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, state Rep. Cheri Gerou and Jefferson and Park county officials attended Friday’s dedication.
“The ability to view wildlife here is an incredible opportunity,” Hickenlooper said. “What a great day today is.”
At the dedication, Hickenlooper signed SB 269, which creates a wildfire risk-reduction grant program. The bill provides funds for projects that reduce fuel and wildfire risk in Colorado.
Archibald and Rachael Staunton built Staunton Ranch in the early 1900s. They continued to purchase land and built many cabins on their property. In the 1920s, the Stauntons leased a portion of the property to a logging operation.
Many of the structures still stand and can be viewed in Staunton State Park, including cabins, a sawmill and a shower house.
In 1986, Frances Staunton, Archibald and Rachael’s daughter, gifted the property to Colorado on the condition that her land would be developed into a state park.
For more information about Staunton State Park, call 303-816-0912 or visit www.parks.state.co.us