Elk Meadows History
1969 through the mid 1980s
By Joan Kelley
Published in booklet form, 2005
By Elsa Swyers
Elk Meadows is a place where residents have the opportunity to live amid the magnificent San Juan Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Here among the aspen, pine and spruce, sharing space with deer, elk, wild turkeys, grouse and, of course, bear, we co-exist with a beautiful natural world. Newer members of the Elk Meadow community may wonder about how this special place began, and long-standing residents and property owners may have forgotten our early history.
Joan Kelley (formerly Mrs. George Pearce) shares with us the story of the beginning and early days of Elk Meadows. As on the of the founding members of the community, her first-hand knowledge and remembrance of events, both challenging and fun, are recorded in the following pages. Thank you, Joan.
In the late summer or early fall of 1969, Ray Coffey, a Montrose realtor, brought George Pearce and myself (then Joan Pearce) through Zetterholm’s property to Rosetti’s leagl access road to what is now Elk Meadows. The legal access at that time was by way of where the green gate is now on County Road 5, 2.3 miles north of the mailboxes. We walked the property and were awestruck by its beauty — the meadows and trees with the San Juans in the background. George and I agreed that we had to have this property! Although he only had $10 in his pocket, George gave it to Ray as a deposit. Larger and legal transactions followed later, including a partnership of the Pearces and Coffeys to purchase the land from a group of Montrose bankers.
Several months passed and the winter of 1969-70 was upon us. We came back through the same access route with snowmobiles and, upon first hitting the property, we found about 3 feet of snow and a small herd of elk crossing in the area of the “North 40.” What a beautiful sight to behold at the base of the San Juan Mountains! Hence my name of “Elk Meadows.”
In the spring of 1970, legal steps were taken to purchase a definitely better access to Elk Meadows. That summer, Zetterholm sold a 60-foot right of way (an easement) requiring a fence built to her specifications within 30 days. She held a $1,000 deposit if the fence wasn’t finished in that length of time. This was August, I believe, and it rained nearly every day! George and I finally hollered “help” and Ray brought up three Mexican men. We finished in 29 days and got our $1,000 back. Hard work!
Our son Bill was with us at the time from Mesa College but was unable to help. He was wearing a back brace due to an injury received in a car-motorcycle accident out of Delta. George’s mother was also with us at this time and was a great help with the cooking.
Previous to our fencing episode, George had roughed in a road from County Road 5 to the rim where we chose to put our mobile home. In roughing in the road, we made a special effort not to remove or damage the large, old yellow pine tree that still stands ’til this day just in from the mail boxes. This special tree has been a landmark on the road into Elk Meadows and often noticed by children as the “tree in the middle of the road.” Hopefully, the residents will continue to keep the yellow pine until it dies from old age.
The Early Days
By September of 1970, George and I lived in a new double-wide mobile home bought in Denver. Son Bill parked the two units together with our dozer on September 16th (his 21st birthday). Five days later, September 21st, we woke up to 2 feet of snow — no electricity — no running water!
The going got tough that first winter. Bill drove to California to pick up a gasoline generator which we ran an hour or so in late evenings so I could cook on an electric stove and heat water for bathing. We did put in 2 gas wall heaters, one in the living room and the other in the bedroom.
Early happenings in Elk Meadows included surprise cattle drives. It seems that in those days it had been customary to drive cattle through the land. I remember cowboys on horseback, including one Keith Kelley. Lots of cow patties were left behind. I wasn’t very happy.
Adams Engineering was contracted to survey the property and lay out the roads and lots under the supervision of George and myself. I graciously accepted the honor of naming the roads, drives, lanes, etc. and routed out all the wooden road signs for the names with an electric router powered by our generator.
The earliest property owners in Elk Meadows in addition to George and me, were Ben and Minnie White, Milt and Darlene Jones, and Stanley and Elizabeth Davis. Stan and “Lib” built the first house here.
Communication in those days was by C.B. (citizen band) radio, as there was no phone service. For mail delivery we had P.O. boxes at the Ridgway post office.
The early days included changes in my marriage to George. Due to none of the previously mentioned hardships, divorce proceedings were started in 1972 and finalized in 1973. Nevertheless, George put in a full 7 years of hard work in Elk Meadows.
In the spring of ’72, I moved to Ouray and set up and ran an Elk Meadows sales office for the next 5 years in the Kuboskes’ San Juan Jeep Tour building. During that time, in ’73, Keith Kelley came to Ouray as Chief of Police and our paths crossed again. The first time was in 1970 in the vicinity of the falls when George and I were putting in fence.
Well, one thing led to another and Keith and I were married in June of ’75. We continued our same occupations until we both started having “twitches” and “rashes” from the law enforcement stress. It was time to quit! Keith did remain as a deputy of the Sheriff’s Department and part-time fill-in for many years after.
In 1976 we left Ouray and set up a sales office in Ridgway, leasing space in front of Mitchell’s (the old railroad depot). That space is where the Last Dollar Laundromat is now. The sales office was in a single-wide mobile home and we lived in the back part. During that time Keith worked for Abbot Ready Mix. The mobile home eventually was purchased and moved to Elk Meadows by Milt Jones, an early resident.
In the fall of 1976, we started building our little cottage in Elk Meadows next to our present home on Aspen Drive. We always referred to it as “the little green house” (now Bossharts). That winter we had a light snowfall so we worked on it nearly every day and sometimes many hours at night. It was finished by the spring of ’77 and we moved in. Once Keith and I were living in Elk Meadows, we always tried to keep track that everyone got home safely, especially during bad snowstorms.
During our absence, great things had happened in Elk Meadows. Electricity came in August of ’72. Running water came in August of ’73. While I lived in Ouray and was still single, the present 12,000 gallon water tank was brought in. Beverly Pearce, George’s second wife, and I crawled under the propped-up tank with buckets of tar and paintbrushes and painted the entire bottom of the tank!
In 1979, the partnership of George Pearce, Beverly Pearce (who had bought Coffey’s original 1/4 interest) and myself (Joan Kelley by then) was peacefully dissolved. Friendships remained intact by all and continue to this day.
In January of 1983, no heavy snows fell and our water system froze up. Keith says the #1 reason being that the lines were not deep enough crossing Aspen Drive to the homes. Plus there was not enough snow to make a good base. This is why our first several snows are left on the road to be packed down as an insulating base.
The first annual homeowners meeting was held in the early ’70s outside on the grass in the open. The first annual dues were $10 a year and some property owners were unhappy about that. As the community grew, the annual meeting became both a business meeting for community decisions and a fun social event. Some property owners would travel from out-of-state to come to the meetings to vote their share as well as to enjoy the potlucks and the sense of belonging to the Elk Meadows community.
The above was written quite a few years back, but now it seems time to share the beautiful memories of the founding and birth of Elk Meadows. However, I want to pay tribute to my husband, Keith, who has spent many years of hard work, interest, and caring for its existence and progress mainly on water and roads or whatever was needed. Also, thanks to all our many friends who would pitch in and help, especially Milt Jones, Gerald Sellers and Ralph Thobe.
There have been hardships along the way, like the time we were snowed in for 3 days. Keith and I were so sick once (the flu, I think) that the County had to open up the road from where the mailboxes are now to the little green house so they could bring us medicine. The police radio was our communication then as Keith was still a deputy sheriff at the time.
We also remember well, besides the hardships, the many fun times we had - snowmobiling, get-togethers, potlucks and visiting after every annual homeowners’ meeting. And every Christmas, the Elks Lodge in Ouray would send up a Santa (many times that was Keith) with candy for the children and elderly.
Rather than bringing this to an end, I hope that the spirit of the early days of Elk Meadows will continue. Now that you know more about the old days and the old-timers, maybe you will feel more a part of Elk Meadows and will love it, appreciate it, care for it, and protect it and continue to do what makes it a special place.
I guess by now, we all know that somewhere along the way the County took over the road coming in and it is now known as County Road 5A. Have heard now that they plan to widen it to 60 feet. So, I guess that means “goodbye” favorite yellow pine tree and Enchanted Forest! Oh, well …
During the first three decades of Elk Meadows' existence, reliable domestic water service was a daunting challenge. Frozen lines, leaking distribution pipes and outages were commonplace. (Ironically, some old-timers say that wasn't an all-bad situation ... neighbors really got to know each other while digging together for pipes). After a $1 million infrastructure improvement project completed in 2009, that liability has been made into a huge community asset.