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Wildflowers are in full bloom in the mountains, reminding us that the area's natural beauty has always drawn visitors to western Boulder County.Nowadays, we may drive to a trailhead and take a hike, but in the early 1900s the average Boulder resident or...

Boulder County history: Trains brought riders closer to nature

Wildflowers are in full bloom in the mountains, reminding us that the area's natural beauty has always drawn visitors to western Boulder County.Nowadays, we may drive to a trailhead and take a hike, but in the early 1900s the average Boulder resident or...

Boulder County history: Trains brought riders closer to nature

Wildflowers are in full bloom in the mountains, reminding us that the area's natural beauty has always drawn visitors to western Boulder County.

Nowadays, we may drive to a trailhead and take a hike, but in the early 1900s the average Boulder resident or tourist who wanted a closer look booked a day trip on the train.

Although the county's only mountain railroad initially was built to access the area's gold and silver mines, special excursion trains quickly became a hit with the general public.

To reflect the beauty and romance of the railroad, the narrow gauge became known as the "Switzerland Trail of America." Beginning under new management in 1898, the Colorado & Northwestern (followed by the Denver Boulder & Western) offered a series of excursions.

These special outings allowed passengers to get off and throw snowballs or, in the fall, to stop in aspen groves and collect yellow leaves.

Perhaps the most popular day trips, however, were the summer wildflower excursions. Before the average person owned an automobile, the train gave flatlanders an opportunity to view flowers that were different than what they could find on the plains.

The railroad's annual flower excursions began in 1905, one year after the DB&W extended its tracks from the town of Sunset up toward Sugarloaf Mountain and west to Glacier Lake, then ending at the town of Eldora.

Stops were made wherever abundant fields of wildflowers were in bloom, and men, women and children rushed off the train to see what varieties they could find. As evident in nearly all known existing photos of these excursions, passengers picked as many flowers as they could carry.

The Rocky Mountain columbine was among the most coveted. In 1899, Colorado's schoolchildren, in a statewide vote, had designated the delicate white and lavender blossom as the state flower. Other flowers in high demand included the golden banner, mountain lupine and the Indian paintbrush, among today's favorites as well.

The excursion trains continued at least through 1914. Meanwhile, mining companies began to use trucks instead of horse-drawn freight wagons, and they found they no longer needed to depend on the railroad at all. Residents and tourists continued to pick wildflowers, but many chose to drive into the mountains in Stanley Steamers and other large touring cars.

In 1925, the Colorado General Assembly enacted a law to protect the columbine, making it illegal to uproot the flower on public lands. It still could be picked, however, as long as the number of blossoms were limited to 25 per day. At the time of the statute, the misdemeanor was punishable by a fine of "not less than five nor more than fifty dollars."

The railroad reached the end of its line in 1919, when much of the grade was washed out in a flood and the railroad couldn't afford to rebuild.

When it did run its excursions, it served its purpose of bringing visitors closer to nature, even if those visitors, in their enthusiasm, may have taken too much of it home.

Carol Taylor and Silvia Pettem write about history for the Daily Camera. Email Carol at [email protected], Silvia at [email protected] or write to the Daily Camera, 2500 55th St., Suite 210, Boulder, 80301.

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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