June 7th, 2:02pm

Near the end of our conversation last week with Curt Buchholtz, author, historian, and director of the Intermountain Region of the National Park Foundation, Curt realized how difficult our task at hand was. That we were not so much searching for a fun campfire story, but that we were interviewing him to understand the essence of this place, which would guide our research in finding stories that could share that essence. To that end, Curt offered to drive us to a few sites around the region that tourists don’t see.

So a few days later, we received a private insider’s tour. We proceeded to a whole number of spots with deep historic significance, that stand today without celebration, without visitation. We visited the now somewhat defunct Elkhorn Lodge: not only the the resort that hosted F.O. Stanley on his first summer in Estes Park but also where the preservation idea was first proposed by H.N. Wheeler. The grounds also hosted the station of Colorado’s first park ranger, and the very first trail of the park. We visited the Earl of Dunraven’s complex, who opened the first tourist resort in Colorado in 1886, drove by the cabin where Isabella Bird stayed the three months she was in Estes Park (an experience she documents in the influential “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains”), Enos Mills’ cabin, and hopped out for a quick tour of the The Bald Pate Inn, a historic and still operational lodge.

We ended our tour at Lily Lake. Here, we got to see a glimpse of the incredible efforts that preserve public lands. With the National Park Foundation at the helm, the land was acquired by donation of a private donor. The Foundation then worked to purchase land to connect Rocky Mountain National Park to Lily Lake, and then land across the lake to include Twin Sisters Mountain. Hiking trails were blazed around the lake and the adjoining mountains, after a lengthy conversation between the National Forest and Park Services. Later, the park discovered that although they owned the lake land, they didn’t own the water itself, and needed to raise funds to purchase the water rights, and prevent draining of the lake. All this work, so that you and I may enjoy a peaceful, serene, mountain lake.

Our warmest gratitude goes to Curt for showing us these hidden treasures of the region!