Tom Ross: Last call for autumn hiking |

Tom Ross: Last call for autumn hiking

The autumn color has faded, but Saturday was ideal for a hike to the second waterfall on Fish Creek in what could be some of the last mild weather of the season.

— The stream of hikers working their way up the trail to the second waterfall at Fish Creek Falls on Saturday morning reminded me a little of squirrels scurrying to get ready for winter. The weather was primo beaucoup, but there was a clear sense that it couldn't last.

Unless you live in one of the neighborhoods just off Fish Creek Falls Road and the hike above Fish Creek Falls is part of your fitness routine, it's easy to forget how popular the waterfall is. The parking lot was packed, and I spied license plates from Illinois, Missouri, New York and New Hampshire as well as four or five from Utah. There were tribes of young adults, well-behaved dogs and young families with toddlers in the mix.

Typically, when I hike to the second falls or all the way to Long Lake on the Continental Divide, I remind myself that in the early 1980s there was a threat to develop the land surrounding the waterfall. That's right. Fish Creek Falls was once surrounded by private land.

The late philanthropist Bob Adams, and later his heirs, stepped in to buy the property specifically with the intent to engineer a land trade with the U.S. Forest Service and bring the waterfall safely into the public domain for all time.

That process is not as easy as it might sound because the trade is required by federal law to involve two parcels of land that appraise for identical amounts.

Adams was interested in trading a piece of national forest land that bordered his ranch in the south valley. It took years, but the deal got done, and today we count the waterfall among our most prized natural and cultural assets.

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The Forest Service has invested in the facilities there, and a community effort replaced the old bridge over Fish Creek with a new one that honored the historic design. The historic bridge dovetails nicely with a process that took place from 2005 to 2007 when the local community, led by the city of Steamboat Springs, used a Preserve America Grant from the National Park Service to compile a Cultural Heritage Interpretive Plan.

In plain language, the plan was put together to assemble historical story lines that bring to life the rugged individuals and enduring institutions that made the Yampa Valley what it is. The purpose was to allow residents and cultural heritage tourists to better understand and appreciate Steamboat history through public information displays.

I stumbled upon the plan while Googling around the Internet looking for documentation of the history of Fish Creek Falls. I think the plan would be enjoyable reading for all of you who might enjoy a succinct history of Steamboat Springs and the surrounding area. Far from dry, it allows the reader to put together the puzzle pieces of local history with a light scan.

The content ranges from the roles played in Steamboat history by strong-willed women such as Eleanor Bliss and Dorothy Wither to the traditions of the native Ute Indians' spring Bear Dance. It explains the local history of cattle drives, ski carnivals, forestry and mining and how those activities continue to shape Steamboat's unique place in the world.

For example, did you know that the Wright brothers' first powered flight in 1903 didn't travel as far through the air as ski jumpers of the same era soared?

The flight at Kitty Hawk measured just 120 feet, and the world record ski jump that year was recorded at 134 feet.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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