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New Tread exhibit celebrates Steamboat’s legacy of learning

If you go:

What: “A Legacy of Learning”: Celebrating 50 years of Colorado Mountain College and the Bud Werner Memorial Library

When: March 24 to Sept. 24

Where: Tread of Pioneers, 800 Oak St., Steamboat Springs

Visit treadofpioneers.org for information.







— With the first schoolhouse constructed in 1883, and first library established in 1884, the town of Steamboat Springs has held education in high esteem from the beginning.

But it was 1967 — when the town opened the doors to the first permanent buildings for both a library and a community college — that marked one of the most pivotal years in the history of Steamboat's "intellectual infrastructure."

As Bud Werner Memorial Library and Colorado Community College (CMC) celebrated their 50th anniversaries earlier this year, Candice Bannister, executive director of Tread of Pioneers Museum, decided to honor — and connect — both institutions in a single exhibit.

Featuring a historical perspective on libraries and education in the Yampa Valley, the new exhibit will run through September 24.

For a relatively small, rural and remote town like Steamboat to have a college, Bannister said, not to mention having a college for half a century, is exceptional. And she called the library "one of the finest in the state."

At the heart of the history of the two institutions that "helped shape our extraordinary mountain town," is the power of the dedication and support from the community, Bannister said.

As the earliest pioneers embraced education, they also embraced arts and culture, she noted, especially with founding of Perry Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp in 1913.

Chris Painter, executive director of Bud Werner Memorial Library, called it a "tremendous honor" to be included in the museum's exhibit, providing "another avenue to tell our story" as one of “two educational institutions that contributed so much to the intellectual life of our community."

From its founding days, Steamboat has cultivated and attracted and intellectual curiosity, CMC Library Director Kevin Williams said.

“The place naturally fosters curiosity,” Williams explained. “People like to explore and that transfers to education."

The history of the college is one with struggle — and a determined fight for existence over decades of obstacles and financial strife. And the anniversary is two-fold — marking both CMC's history as a consortium in the state, now with 11 campuses, and the beginning of a college (originally founded as Yampa Valley College) in Steamboat.

"This particular miracle concerns the creation of a four-year college from absolutely nothing but a dream, the rarified mountain air, and plenty of blood, sweat, and tears," wrote Lucy Bogue in "Miracle on the Mountain."

It was in 1951 that Bogue decided there must be a college in Steamboat – and the idea never lost its grip on her, despite the multitude of naysayers.

"The story of the college's birth and early history is fraught with troubles, packed with suspense, and padded generously with loving reminiscences of the people who were involved along the way," begins the introduction of Bogue's book.

The idea struck Bogue while attending a meeting of arts leaders and innovators from across the nation at Perry Mansfield. There was no college within 200 miles either to the east or west of the "remote mountain cow town" home to just 2,000 residents at the time.

"It's a perfect place for a college," Bogue contended. "Peaceful and quiet. And with everything kids love . . . skiing, swimming, riding, camping, and the whole beautiful Colorado wilderness."

Yampa Valley College opened in 1962 with 11 students. The following year, 26 full-time students were enrolled with 60 community members also registered for classes, and Bogue initially acting as the college president.

After changing its name to Colorado Alpine College and moving to its Woodchuck Hill campus in 1967, the college folded in 1969.

In 1978, the Yampa Valley Foundation formed to save the college, and in 1981, Steamboat voters approved a tax that funded and incorporated the college into CMC district.

Today, CMC continues to grow and there are now about 230 residential students, about 700 degree-seeking students and anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 people taking classes at any given time.

Williams said he's excited to be a part of the collaboration between CMC, Tread of Pioneers and Bud Werner Memorial Library in the new exhibit, as well as resource sharing and historical preservation projects.

After more than 80 years moving between basements and borrowed spaces, the history of the library centers on its namesake — giving the building special meaning and a sense of pride.

After the Wallace "Bud" Werner died in an avalanche in Switzerland in 1964, "people came together in the community to create a memorial," Painter described.

"Werner's charming looks, natural talent and heart-warming personality made him an instant star in America and around the world," Bannister wrote. "He drew new attention to American skiing and put the small ranching community of Steamboat Springs on the map."

Today, the library continues to "carry on his charisma and spirit and innovation in the services we provide," Painter said.

While the town's first library dates back to 1884 and the donation of 1,000 books by William Denison, it wasn't until 1967 that Steamboat's library had a permanent home of its own.

Painter identifies three key roles of her institution: a resource for lifelong learning — no matter what your interest or passion. Second, in the cultural enrichment of the community, and third, for escape, or "enhancing people's leisure time."

"To have a library of this caliber, and a college, completely shapes the town," Bannister said, integrating with the economic, recreational, and arts and cultural underpinnings.

"1967 really was a landmark year for lifelong learning in the Yampa Valley," Painter said.

"If the library or CMC has touched your life in some way," Bannister said, "Learning about the history gives you a greater appreciation for the institution."

The new exhibit, “A Legacy of Learning,” is on display at Tread of Pioneers Museum, 800 Oak St. in Steamboat Springs, through Sept. 24. Visit treadofpioneers.org for more information.