The Yampa Valley has lost an incomparable legend — one of the greatest and most influential champions of conservation that this valley has ever seen. We owe much of the modern feel of the valley to the way this rancher fought for the landscape. She defined integrity. Time spent hearing feisty arguments and old-timer stories at her kitchen table is among my most precious memories. Elaine, you leave a hole in our collective heart.
— Jennie Lay, local journalist and adult programming coordinator at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.
Wednesday, family and the community gathered at the Steamboat Christian Center for Elaine Gay’s memorial service to pay tribute to a one-of-a-kind woman who personified grace and goodness and leaves her magnificent mark forever on this valley.
Tales from the Tread
Tales from the Tread columns publish the first and third Wednesdays in the Steamboat Today.
If you ever had the privilege of meeting Elaine, you surely will never forget her. Her charm, wit, smile and infectious laugh touched all who crossed her path. For this, and her vivid memories of the early days in Pleasant Valley, she often drew packed houses as a featured speaker at the Tread of Pioneers Museum and other venues.
“… She baked a mean pie, wrote books, told amazing stories and successfully ran, with her late husband, one of the most stunning ranches in this valley. She was a rancher who fought alongside skiers for the very nature of the landscape that exists here today,” wrote Jennie Lay in her Straight Talk blog on my.steamboat.com. “She was our Queen of Conservation, and visitors and locals can all thank her for working tirelessly to protect the character of this special community — a place that remains home to cowboys and cosmopolitan skiers alike.”
For her countless contributions to the conservation, community and heritage of Routt County, Elaine received several awards, including the Hazie Werner Award of Excellence and the Tread of Pioneers Museum’s Leckenby Award.
She was a revered local historian. She generously shared her knowledge and memories with the museum and countless others. In 1995, she wrote the book, “How Pleasant is the Valley,” in memory of her late husband, Bob, who had recently passed away “… doing what he liked doing best … driving his horses while he fed his cows.”
The book is a rare and comprehensive historical resource about the history of Pleasant Valley, a scenic jewel just south of Steamboat Springs. The book chronicles the homesteaders, families and school of that area, community life, local ranching methods and more. Elaine recounts detailed stories and facts that are irreplaceable and personal snapshots of a time gone by.
The book ends with a section titled “Pleasant Valley Today.” It somberly describes how drastically the valley had changed throughout the past 50 years, and all the many sights and sounds that disappeared as pioneer families left or modern ranching methods replaced the old.
The final words of Elaine’s book are perhaps the last words she might like to leave with all of us.
“There are still many birds in the valley to fill the air with song in the spring. There are frogs croaking in the sloughs and ponds. The hills and mountains are relatively unscathed from the big building boom that has left other mountain areas covered with huge houses and scars from ski runs and over development. There is still the roaring of streams in the springtime as they dash down the mountainside into the rivers below. There remains a quietness and sense of peace at being away from the noise and blare of traffic.
How wonderful it would be if we could just keep what we have left, as it is, for all of the world and future generations to see.”
Candice Bannister is executive director of the Tread of Pioneers Museum.