Park County Overview
Park County, Summit County’s next-door neighbor to the south, is located high in the Rockies in the geographic center of Colorado. From canyons to grasslands to mountain summits, Park County offers spectacular scenery, outdoor recreational opportunities and a true mountain heritage all in one neat and tidy package.
Founded in 1861, Park County is a true to life example of the American West. It wasn’t until the “Pikes Peak or Bust” gold rush of 1859 that the population of Park County really blossomed from French explorers and Ute Indians to miners looking for some highly anticipated gold nuggets. The gold rush brought both the affluent and the poor to the high, wild country and soon mining camps became towns and ranches.
Then, on the heels of the gold rush, came a silver boom, but the bust economy quickly turned many a mining camp into a ghost town. To feed miners, ranchers relocated cattle from Texas, and soon discovered that the livestock flourished on the county’s rich grasses, creating a new culture for Park County. The wealth of minerals, cattle, and hay resulted in railroad development, which in turn created new towns and ultimately a thriving line of business … tourism.
Referred to as Bayou Salado (Salt Marshes) by American trappers, or mountain men residing in the area, Park County’s buffalo trails soon became wagon roads and then ultimately railroads, turning the county into a mecca for tourists. Many of the original homesteads in Platte Canyon soon became hotels and restaurants for the gold-hungry travelers heading west, while hundreds of visitors came on the trains from Denver and Colorado Springs to hunt, fish, sightsee and pick flowers. When highways finally replaced the trains, guest ranches and resorts continued to host visitors seeking to find the real Colorado.
Today, Park County includes a wealth of natural resources, some of which exist nowhere else in the world. More than 115 rare or imperiled plant and animal species have been documented in the County, nearly 50 of which are considered globally significant. One of the richest sections of the Colorado Mineral Belt, Park County has intrusions of gold, silver, lead and other minerals present in rock formations today.
Comprised of multiple towns and communities averaging 9,000 feet in elevation, Park County is home to the nation’s highest town (Alma), ranches, gold mines, mountain passes and Ute encampments. The towns and communities of Alma, Bailey, Como, Fairplay, Grant, Guffey, Hartsel, Jefferson, Lake George, Pine Junction and Shawnee make up Park County – all with their own unique attributes that help you to envision the history of the American West. History buffs can find literally hundreds of still-standing old structures from the mining days, and the town of Fairplay is famous for its South Park City Museum, featuring 37 buildings and over 60,000 artifacts from the later 1800’s – creating an atmosphere that feels like you’re taking a trip back in time.
Fairplay, the county seat and center of commerce for Park County, is equipped with a high school, middle school, elementary school and preschool for all of your educational needs. In addition to its museum, Fairplay is also one of the first remaining gold towns founded in the Colorado Territory, and is the impetus for the fictional town of the same name in the animated television series, South Park. The town of Alma, the highest incorporated town in North America, lies at the foot of Mount Bross at 10,578 feet above sea level. Incorporated in 1873 when silver was found in abundance, Alma nearly died out in the 1980s, but now is a lively, prosperous town with a plethora of historical sites as well as new construction. Quite a few Summit County workers choose to live in the towns of Alma and Fairplay where the pace of life is a bit quieter.
Park County includes more territory above 9,000 feet than any other Colorado county, with Federal Lands comprising 51 percent of its landmass. State-owned lands make up 8 percent and privately owned lands 41 percent. Two wilderness areas (Buffalo Peaks and Lost Creek), three state parks (Eleven Mile, Spinney Mountain & Staunton) and twelve state wildlife areas call Park County home.
Unlike many of its surrounding counties, most of Park County has changed very little as the wide-open ranchlands still host cattle, bison, elk, deer and antelope. The vast and dense forests are also home to bears, mountain lions, foxes and lynx. Today’s Park County is now deeply connected to recreation and tourism as 50 miles of gold medal trout water and dozens of lakes crisscross the area, making it a haven for anglers from around the country. Winter activities such as ice climbing, snowshoeing and cross country skiing are also popular activities in the mountainous regions of Park County, while summertime hiking, camping, mountain biking, off-roading and horseback riding are always popular excursions.
Experience the history of the Wild West while enjoying modern amenities and recreation opportunities, all in one neat and tidy package called Park County.