Heart of Colorado County Profiles
History and Geography
Chaffee County is a rural mountain county encompassing 1,040 square miles in the high desert region of central Colorado. Chaffee is located more than two hours away from metropolitan areas, across mountain passes and winding highways. The county is known for year-round recreational activities, historic downtowns, local artists and culture, and beautiful surroundings. Chaffee County incorporates Browns Canyon National Monument, Buffalo Peaks Wilderness, Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, San Isabel National Forest, and the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.
The county seat is Salida, and other incorporated communities include Buena Vista, and Poncha Springs. Salida was originally a railroad town along the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, but when railroad activity slowed down after World War II, Salida transitioned to a community composed of ranchers and miners commuting to the Climax mine in Leadville. Today, the primary economic driver of Chaffee County is recreation with some growth in light manufacturing. Ranching and farming are also still very viable industries within the county. Monarch ski area is nearby, and there are plentiful opportunities for kayaking or whitewater rafting. Chaffee County is home to 12 peaks that rise above 14,000 feet, more than any other single county in the State. Mountain climbing, hiking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, and four wheel drive excursions are popular outdoor events. The county has two commercial hot springs swimming pools that are very popular with locals and visitors alike.
Chaffee County is home to approximately 18,278 residents, an increase of 2.63% since 2010. Approximately 17.8% of the population is younger than age 18, and 24.9% is 65 or older. The racial composition is approximately 86.6% Caucasian, 9.4% Hispanic/Latino, 1.7% African American, 0.8% percent Native American, and 0.6% Asian/Pacific Islander.
The emphasis on seasonal recreation has created a cycle of low-paying seasonal employment that is often insufficient to meet family needs. Individuals often must work more than one job to make ends meet, and there is a significant shortage of affordable housing even for workers earning 80% – 120% of median income. Chaffee has a workforce of 8,832 individuals, with a median household income of $48,528. An estimated 12.4% of the population is living in poverty.
The county continues to face rapid growth, with significant land-development projects slated for the three towns of Buena Vista, Salida and Poncha Springs. Comprehensive planning will be critical to managing growth and promoting a safe, healthy, self-sufficient community for years to come. The economic development corporation in conjunction with the three municipalities in the county has been generating innovative economic and business development projects that promote small businesses, arts and culture, and historic preservation
Health and Human Services
15.7% of Chaffee County residents are uninsured. A countywide assessment recognized a limited access to dental care and mental health care, as well as increased incidents of substance and alcohol abuse by teens, tobacco use, and domestic abuse.
In Salida there are a handful of county-wide medical resources, including Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center, a 25-bed critical access hospital; and Solvista, a regional mental health service provider. There also is an active nurse-family partnership that supports new mothers.
There are two school districts in Chaffee County, with 11 public schools serving 2,015 students. The high school graduation rate is 90.5%, and 34.2% of adult residents have received a bachelor’s degree or higher.
A countywide assessment described a lack of quality affordable childcare. The nonprofit community has created a suite of programs to address community need, including afterschool programs serving children age 5 through middle school, a home visitation program for new parents, and programs serving at-risk youth and their families. Transportation
The mean commuting time for Chaffee County residents, according to the 2013 American Community Survey, is 14.9 minutes. 80.6% drive themselves, or carpool. The Chaffee Shuttle is a free, demand-response public transport service that operates in Salida and Buena Vista. The Chaffee Shuttle also operates regular service to Gunnison, Alamosa, Cañon City, and Pueblo; however, this service is not free. The Arrow/Black Hills Stage Line is a bus system that connects Chaffee to Denver, Alamosa, and Gunnison.
Clear Creek County
History and Geography
Clear Creek was one of the original 17 counties defined by the Colorado Legislature in 1861, and retains its original shape still today. It was named for the creek that runs along the continental divide and directly through the county. Clear Creek County is 396 square miles in area, and the county seat is Georgetown.
Clear Creek County has its economic roots in the silver rush of the late 1800’s. The county seat of Georgetown once thrived as an entertainment hub for miners who operated claims in the surrounding mountains. In the late 1880’s, Georgetown rivaled Leadville in silver production, and for a short time there was a movement to shift the state capital from Denver to Georgetown.
When the Federal Government demonetized, Clear Creek communities were forced to restructure their economies. The community of Idaho Springs, founded during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, is today comprised largely of workers who commute to the Loveland ski area. Georgetown was able to capitalize on its location on I-70 to appeal to travelers and skiers, weary from I-70 traffic. Today Georgetown operates as a tourist hub, retaining mining structures, museums, and historic Colorado architecture.
The 2013 US census documented the population of Clear Creek to be 9,068, which is a 0.22% decrease from 2010. The median age in Clear Creek is 48 years. The majority of Clear Creek inhabitants are Caucasian, at 93.9%, with 5.1% Hispanic or Latino, 0.9% Black or African American, and 0.1% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. The poverty rate in Clear Creek County is 10.2%.
The labor force of Clear Creek County is composed of 5,555 individuals, and the median household income in 2013 is $68,531.
There is one school district in Clear Creek, with 5 public schools that serve 959 students. Clear Creek is covered by Triad Early Childhood Council, which also covers the counties of Gilpin and Jefferson, committed to improving the quality and equity of early childhood programming in the three county region. 40.8% of Clear Creek residents have bachelor’s degrees.
Health and Human Services
While only 9.1% of Clear Creek residents are uninsured, the nearest hospital is located at St. Anthony Summit in Frisco is 48 miles away. The nearest mental health center is located 24 miles away at the Jefferson Center for Mental Health in Evergreen. As off 2013, there are no practicing physicians or primary care physicians in Clear Creek County.
Clear Creek County straddles I-70, but without a vehicle, public transportation options are limited. The mean travel time to work is 32.6 minutes, with 81% of residents driving alone or carpooling.
History and Geography
Custer County is bordered by the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range on the west, the unincorporated community of Wetmore on the east, and the San Isabel National Forest to the southeast. The county seat is Westcliffe, which resides at an elevation of 7,888 feet. Located south of Cañon City and west of Pueblo, Custer County has a population of approximately 4,000 people. Custer County is a popular outdoor vacation spot, boasting several 14,000 foot peaks as well as numerous fishing, hiking, hunting, and camping areas.
The historic residents of Custer County were the Southern Ute. In the sixteenth century, Spaniards who had been colonizing New Mexico moved north into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. These Europeans brought new technology, as well as diseases including small pox and cholera that would decimate these Native communities. In the early nineteenth century American explorer Zebulon Pike surveyed the area, and mountain men and fur trappers were not far behind.
In 1869, the first pioneers, Elisha P. Horn, John Taylor and William Vorhis, arrived to claim a piece of rich ranch land. Each settled a separate corner of the valley; Horn at the foot of Horn’s Peak, Taylor on the banks of Taylor Creek and Vorhis by the town of Dora. Today, Custer County has eight Centennial Farms, all operated by the original family that established them over one hundred years ago.
Custer County history is also rich in mining. Custer County was home to several silver and gold mines during the turn of the century and through the 1940’s when copper was king due to the World War II effort. Several small claims are still maintained by assessment work. Significant production at these early mines caused the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad to build a line into the area and establish the Town of Westcliffe. Rail revenues depended upon inbound freight of mine machinery and outbound freight of ore. Now, much of the residential development of the county is located in abandoned mining areas.
The population of Custer County was 4,373 in 2014, which is a slight increase of 2.4% from 2010. Custer is primarily white (92%), and the next largest ethnic group is Hispanic or Latino (4.7%). The majority of residents of Custer County residents (94.1%) speak English at home. Custer County has a significant population of veterans comprising 14% of the population.
The median age in Custer County is 54.6 years, which is significantly older than the Colorado median of 36.1 years, with just under 17% of the population under the age of 18, and about 32% of the population 65 and older. The fastest growing age group over the next few years is expected to be those 65-75 years.
The largest industries in Custer County are: public administration, retail trade, and accommodation and food service. In Custer County the median household income is $47,268, and the average home price is $212,000. Agriculture is still a significant influence on the economy and light manufacturing has surfaced as a viable potential economic driver.
The Custer County Economic Development Corporation was established in 2012. One of the major projects was the establishment of public wireless along Main Street of the two towns and some other areas frequented by the public.
Custer County has one school district: Custer County School District C-1, with three public schools and an enrollment of 365. More than 26% of the children enrolled are experiencing poverty, 48.1% are on free or reduced lunch, and 16.7% of Custer County fourth graders are not proficient in reading. TCAP (Transitional Colorado Assessment Program) scores demonstrate that the percentage of Westcliffe students determined to be at or above proficient in math, reading, and science, is slightly above state average, while the percentage of students at or above proficient in writing is lower than statewide data.
Custer County currently has a high school graduation rate of 85.4%, which is higher than the Colorado state average. Custer County has a higher percentage of the population with a higher education degree than many of the counties in the region. 34.8% of the current permanent population have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is still lower than the Colorado average of 37%.
Health and Human Services
Custer County Medical Center is dedicated to serving the medical needs of the residents and visitors to Custer County and surrounding areas. Custer County Medical Center provides a range of outpatient services. The nearest hospitals are in Salida, Cañon City, and Pueblo. Currently, 54% of children are enrolled in Medicaid, while 12.5% of children remain uninsured. Of the total population, 19.7% are uninsured and 17.3% are enrolled in Medicaid.
Custer County is considered a food desert.
Custer County has had a small volunteer-based public transportation system for many years. The Wet Mountain Valley Community Service organization (a function of the Rotary Club) receives federal general public transit funds and matches with funds raised in the community to provide transportation services. The service provided 2566 trips in 2014.
History and Geography
The majestic Royal Gorge Canyon has been the focal point of Fremont County history since prehistoric times. The Southern Ute, and later Spanish Conquistadors, appreciated its beauty and learned its secrets. In the winter of 1806, explorer Zebulon Pike explored this canyon by traversing the frozen Arkansas River. The county is named for famed explorer, Captain John Fremont, who arrived in 1843. Cañon City was incorporated in 1872, a bustling city just four blocks long. Today the county has an area of 1,534 sq. miles, and is located approximately 35 miles southwest of the city of Colorado Springs.
The first Colorado Territorial prison was built here in 1871, five years before Colorado became a state. Since that time, Fremont County has been home to a large number of state and federal correctional facilities. Additionally, resource extraction has proved an important industry to the county. As early as 1872 oil was selling from the Oil Creek area. Nearby, large coal reserves provided further impetus for the railroads to push a route through the Royal Gorge to reach the silver mines in Leadville. This legacy of rail travel into the depths of the Royal Gorge is still available today.
Fremont County’s scenic canyons, hot springs and hospitable climate began attracting film makers as early as 1910 when cowboy star Tom Mix starred in a silent film produced by the Selig Film Company. Over the intervening years, many Western films have been made here.
The population of Fremont County was 46,502 in 2014, which is a slight decrease of 0.7% from 2010. Fremont County is primarily white (80%), and the next largest ethnic group is Hispanic or Latino (12.3%). The majority of Fremont County residents (89%) speak English at home. It is to be noted inmates in the various correctional facilities are included in the ethnic group calculations. Incarcerated individuals make up 16% of the population of Fremont County.
The poverty rate in Fremont County is 17.6%, which is higher than the state average, and the uninsured rate is 12.1%. The median age in Fremont County is 43.4, which is older than the Colorado median of 36.1 years, with 17.8% of the population under the age of 18, and about 21.3% of the population 65 and older.
US Highway 50 runs the entire width of Fremont County. A large portion of the highway follows alongside the Arkansas River. Rail service is available to Cañon City and Fremont County has a small airport capable of accommodating small private planes and jets and commerce aircraft.
The largest industries in Fremont County are public administration, health care & social assistance, and retail trade. In Fremont County the median household income is $41,412 and the average home price is $157,576.
Fremont County has a shortage of affordable housing. The vacancy rate is 1.8% (3rd quarter 2015). There were 118 foreclosures in 2015 through November. Only three residential building permits were issued in 2015 and all three were for the Mutual Self Help Housing program.
No affordable housing units have been built since 2012. One in four renter families are just one paycheck away from homelessness. 48.4% of Fremont County residents are paying more than 30% of their income toward rent, and 36.6% are paying more than 30% of their income toward a mortgage.
Fremont County has three school districts: Cañon City, Cotopaxi Consolidated, and Florence with 21 public schools and an enrollment of 5,179. 30% of the children enrolled are experiencing poverty, 55.4% are on free or reduced lunch,
Fremont County schools currently have an average high school graduation rate of 84.3%, which is higher than the Colorado overall rate. Fremont has a low percentage of the population with a higher education degree, and only 15.9% of the current permanent population have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is significantly lower than the Colorado average of 37.5%. This is another area where the incarcerated population affects the demographics of the county. Health and
The 2014-2018 Fremont County Public Health Improvement plan identifies three priorities: Mental Health/Substance Abuse, Tobacco Use, and Maternal Child Health.
St. Thomas More Hospital, a 55 bed acute care facility, provides services for Fremont County and the surrounding areas. St. Thomas More Hospital features a Level IV trauma center with critical care transport through Flight for Life Colorado. The trauma center physicians are all board certified in Emergency Medicine. 19.7% of the population is uninsured and 23.5% are enrolled in Medicaid. The Fremont Public Health Improvement Plan reports that 63% of survey participants regularly traveled outside the county to receive health services and treatment.
The Golden Shuttle/Fremont County Transit operates Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM. They offer convenient, affordable public transportation in Cañon City, Florence, and Penrose.
History and Geography
Gilpin County is a rural community in Colorado’s high country. It borders the Continental Divide on the west, and is surrounded by Boulder, Jefferson and Clear Creek counties to the north, south and west. Additionally, Gilpin County is just over an hour from downtown Denver. Golden Gate State Park as well as the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests are located within Gilpin County.
The county was formed in 1861, while Colorado was still a Territory, and was named after Colonel William Gilpin, the first Governor of the Territory of Colorado. The county has a total area of 150 square miles, of which 0.4 square miles is water. It is the second-smallest county by area in Colorado and 54% of the land is public.
There are five main towns/areas in Gilpin County: Black Hawk, Central City, Rollinsville, Russell Gulch, and Nevadaville. The altitude in the county ranges from 8,000 to 13,200 feet at James Peak. The residents like to joke that the 13 days of summer are bracketed by three days of spring and three days of fall. The rest is winter.
Although the county has post offices, convenience stores, liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, restaurants, two gas stations, various small businesses, residential and apartment homes, and many casinos; there are no services such as grocery, clothing stores, doctor’s offices or banks.
According to the 2014 Census the full-time residential population is about 5,572. Data from the 2000 Census, shows that there are roughly 2,000 households in Gilpin County of which 26% have children under the age of 18 living with them. Fifty-three percent of households are married couples living together. Twenty-six percent of households are made up of individuals and nearly 4% of those households are comprised of individuals who are 65 years of age or older. The median income for a household in the county is $65,851.
In the majority of Colorado counties, 51% of residents live in cities; however, the majority of Gilpin county residents live in unincorporated areas of the county. In Gilpin County 86% of the residents live in the county and are dependent on county services.
Gambling has been the primary industry in Gilpin County since 1991. Gambling is centralized to Black Hawk and Central City, which are located less than one mile from each other. Black Hawk by far is the most successful of the three cities (Cripple Creek being the third) in Colorado that have legalized gambling. In 2014, Black Hawk casino revenue exceeded $560 million.
The City of Black Hawk casinos contribute 1.5% of the revenue earned from lodging, food and beverages each year to the Gilpin RE-1 School District to support educational activities (not administrative salaries). Since 1991, the school has received just under $5 million. County residents also benefit by having low property taxes.
Roughly, 60% of the working residents living in Gilpin County commute out of the county to work. In turn, nearly 4,000 casino employees commute to Gilpin County every day to work.
Getting to Gilpin County requires driving up winding mountain roads. The most used routes include RT. 6 to RT. 119 (Peak to Peak Hwy), which brings drivers into Black Hawk. Additionally, the Central City Parkway connects I70 near Idaho Springs to Central City. Other roadways include RT. 46, which comes up through the Golden Gate State Park or Rt. 72, which winds through Coal Creek. There is no public transportation in the county with the exception of the Gilpin County Connect, which is a scheduled transport for medical care. Gilpin County also has senior transportation to neighboring towns for grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments. In Black Hawk and Central City shuttles exist between casinos and buses from Denver for casino employees.
More than two decades ago Gilpin County was divided between two public school districts: Gilpin RE-1 and Boulder County RE-2. Children in the southern half of the county attend the Gilpin County School District and the students in the northern Gilpin County attend school in Nederland, which is part of the Boulder Valley School District.
The major discrepancy between the two school districts is the school taxes. Gilpin County RE-1 school district has a 7.744 mill levy on an assessed valuation of $308,018,851 and Boulder Valley RE2 has a 45.814 mill levy on an assessed valuation of $49,582,969, according to the 2015 Gilpin County Abstract of Assessment. The Gilpin County School District RE-1 also receives a 1.5% Educational Enhancement Tax from the city of Black Hawk. The district also offers a Montessori track within its Elementary School.
The county has one certified childcare facility for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years – Eagles’ Nest Early Learning Center, which is a non-profit organization.
Health & Human Services
One of the largest burdens on residents in Gilpin County (especially Senior Citizens) is the lack of health services. The closest medical center is nearly an hour away and other health care professionals are located nearly 45 minutes way in Golden, Evergreen, or Arvada.
The Gilpin County Department of Human Services provides federally and state mandated services such as: child and adult programs and protection, childcare assistance, emergency & food assistance, and Veterans services. The senior program provides lunch three times a week and Meals on Wheels for homebound seniors.
History and Geography
Founded in 1861, Lake County was one of the original counties created by the Colorado legislature. Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, the county is home to over 20 alpine lakes and boasts the highest point in Colorado and the North American Rockies – Mount Elbert standing at 14,440’ in elevation. The two communities in Lake County are the Village of Twin Lakes and the City of Leadville. Lake County is very rural, with just 19 people per square mile, compared to 48.5 statewide, and over 75% of the county is public land.
Leadville has a rich and colorful history. In the late 1800s, it was the second most populous city in the state, drawing thousands who came to claim their fortunes in mining. With the close of Climax mine in the 1980s, the town suffered a significant financial blow as jobs and homes were lost. In 2012, Climax mine reopened, but has failed to offer the economic benefit it once did. A far cry from its boom days, today’s Leadville is a bedroom community to the surrounding ski resorts, and immigrants have replaced miners—filling the labor needs for Vail, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge and Keystone resorts.
Lake County receives about 250 inches of snow accumulation each winter. Much of this snowfall occurs during evening hours giving way to beautiful mornings and about 310 days of sunshine each year. Summer is gorgeous with the peak wildflower season occurring around the 4th of July. Summer temperatures seldom reach 80 degrees; therefore, very few buildings have any type of air conditioning.
There were approximately 7,306 people living in the county in 2013, with nearly a third of the population under the age of eighteen. While 37% of Colorado residents have a four-year degree, about two-thirds as many Lake County residents (28.1%) have attained this level of education (2014 Kids Count Colorado).
The county’s demographics have shifted dramatically over the last thirty years as many families have moved to Lake County from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Between 1990 and 2010, the white non-Hispanic population of Lake County increased by 5%, while the Hispanic population increased by 99%. In 2013, Lake County’s Hispanic population comprised 33.8% of the entire population.
About 66% of the Lake County School District students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Currently 66% of students in the Lake County School District are Hispanic. Of those in Lake County five years of age or older in 2012, an estimated 29.4% speak a language other than English at home, compared to 16.7% in the State. The high school graduation rate in 2012 was 76.5%. The student to teacher ratio for elementary, middle, and high schools is about 17 to 1.
Student performance has been a cause for concern in Lake County. Based on the most recent state TCAP tests, only 26% of Lake County 3rd-grade students were reading at grade level, only 18% were writing at grade level, and only 25% were at grade level in math. According to 2014 Kids that Count data, 55.4% of fourth-grade students were not proficient readers. Currently, the Lake County Intermediate School is accredited with a “Priority Improvement” rating and West Park Elementary School is accredited with a “Turnaround” rating.
The school district is currently in partnership with many other community organizations to make significant and substantial changes to improve academic outcomes for students. This includes transforming both of its elementary schools into Expeditionary Learning schools, executing a $26.5M remodel of its high school, and substantially restructuring its Exceptional Students and ESL programs. This work is currently underway and is not yet complete.
The top employers in Lake County are the Lake County School District, Lake County Government, Climax Molybdenum Corporation and Ski Cooper. The average hourly wage is $15.38, which is roughly 8 dollars less than the state average.
Lake County has the lowest average home price in the five-county region at $174,312, and an average monthly renter fee of $563. Home ownership is also low with a total of about 4,400 homes: 45% of which are owner-occupied, 22% renter-occupied, and 30% are vacant housing (3% unaccounted). The median household income for residents in 2013 was $44,610 and per capita income was $22,622, both of which are much lower than the average for Colorado. The current poverty level in Lake County is 14.3%, with roughly 27% of Lake County children living in poverty – nearly double the state rate of 17.1%. In order for a single-parent single-child household to achieve self-sufficiency they must make $43,596; which is 296% higher than the federal poverty level.
Health & Social Well-Being
The Lake County community is one deeply affected by health inequities. The health challenges of rural communities in Colorado’s high country are unique and important—but often overshadowed by metro counties in the statewide conversation. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Lake County ranked 48 of 59 counties for population-level health. Residents are challenged by high healthcare and healthy food costs, which significantly attribute to a less healthy community. Limited and expensive healthcare is compounded for Lake County’s most vulnerable families, which comprise a significant portion of the population. The county is above the State average in a number of statistics that track vulnerable families, including: births to single women (Lake: 31.3%, CO: 23.4%); births to women with less than 12 years education (Lake: 24%, CO: 14.5%); rate of births to teenagers (Lake: 25, CO: 24).
Tourism & Recreation
Tourism is a major contributor to the local economy. In the winter, the county is a popular tourist attraction for skiers, snowboarders and, increasingly, snow biking. In the summer, many visitors are attracted to Lake County’s numerous opportunities for outdoor activities, including the many running and biking races. Leadville is host to a number of annual events for locals and visitors to enjoy, including: skijoring, Boom Days, the Leadville Race Series and Leadville Trail 100.
Finally, hundreds of miles of trail systems exist throughout Lake County for locals and visitors to enjoy. Trail options include single track, multi-use, groomed and un-groomed winter cross-country trails systems, and the Mineral Belt Trail, an 11.6 mile paved loop around the City of Leadville and through many historic mining areas. Visitors can also take advantage of Lake County’s Ski Cooper, the Leadville National Fish Hatchery, Turquoise Lake, and the National Mining Museum and Hall of Fame, as well as other historic landmarks and Leadville’s Historic District, comprised mostly of the retail businesses on Harrison Avenue.
Many of Lake County’s social and economic statistics reflect the struggles of a community whose economic foundation is not local. According to data collected from 2008-11, the average Lake County commute was 35 minutes, placing much of the workforce out of county every day. Over 18% of the Lake County workforce commutes to neighboring Eagle County for work and just over 13% commutes to Summit County. Only 27% of the Lake County workforce is employed in Lake County. Public transportation in the county is minimal and infrequent. Eco Bus offers Lake County residents rides to and from Vail twice per day. The Summit Stage operates the Lake County Link bus that currently offers two Lake County departure times in the morning with drop off in Frisco and two return options in the afternoon.
History and Geography
Once an inland sea, the basin of the South Park within Park County is ringed by mountain ranges whose high passes offer stunning views across the open grassland to the tops of 14,000 foot mountains. Streamlets from the snowmelt portions of the Continental Divide, are the origination of the headwaters of the South Platte River and provide much of the water for the Front Range cities.
This area, rich in rare and endangered plants and abundant wildlife, has been designated by Congress as the South Park National Heritage Area. The Platte Canyon and Guffey areas provide gateways into the expanse of the 2,166 square mile county.
Once only a summer home to nomadic groups for 12,000 years, Park County now has a year round population of about 16,200 people. While the earliest visitors to the area hunted wild game, relaxed in hot springs, and enjoyed the cool summer temperatures, it was only upon the arrival of the 1859 gold rush that anyone homesteaded in the area the trappers had named “Bayou Salado” or salty marshland. Braving the harsh winds and biting cold of winter, the settlers established tiny towns and short-lived mining camps, some of which survived. Communities such as Bailey, Como, Jefferson, Guffey, Grant, Hartsel, Lake George, and the two incorporated towns of Alma and Fairplay have their roots in the days of the early miners and ranchers. Residents’ prevailing sense of independence and fortitude in the face of high altitude living reflects the hardiness of those first settlers.
The population has remained relatively unchanged over the last seven years, hovering around the 16,000 mark, with an adult workforce of 11,490 in 2015. Over 75% of the workers living in the county work commute to other counties. Local businesses struggle to compete with the establishments in the bigger cities that workers pass on their way back home to Park County.
There has been an overall increase in the sales tax revenue in the county and in the incorporated towns over the last three years. In January 2016, the unemployment rate in Park County was 2.9 compared to 5.4 for the state. Many people who move to Park County already have jobs, but are willing to make the 45 minute commute for the mountain lifestyle available in Park County. There have been efforts to increase the availability of broadband with expectations of capturing the potential for home-based and entrepreneurial businesses. Park County was just accepted into an Enterprise Zone, which should be able to assist the community with Colorado tax credits.
Park County residents are avid outdoor recreationists and historic preservationists dedicated to preserving their mountain lifestyle and enjoyment of their surroundings. Through a number of partnerships with state and local non-profits, funding through the South Park National Heritage Area, Park County has been able to repair and maintain trails, assist with conservation easements on over 30,000 acres of ranch and mining land, and improve aquatic and wildlife habitat. Outdoor recreationists have discovered the uncrowded trails, fishing streams, backcountry roads and wildlife watching areas, increasing the number of visitors who used to drive through to stop to explore Park County.
There are two public school districts in Park County, CO. The graduation rate for Park County is 87%. Additionally, there is South Park chapter of Parents As Teachers that trains early childhood professionals and provides parents with support and information about their developing kids.
Health and Human Services
While emergency medical response is good, standard medical care is lacking in the county. Recently, a medical clinic in Fairplay and the Fairplay Pharmacy closed their doors, leaving Park County with very limited health facilities. There is a dentist, an audiologist, and two nurse practitioners all of whom work on a part-time basis in Fairplay. In Alma, there is a physician available on a part-time basis who does not take Medicare or most insurance types. Aspen Pointe, a mental health non-profit has locations in Bailey and Fairplay. There is no medical service available in the communities in other parts of the county. The limited availability or lack of these essential services greatly hinder any interest from businesses considering locating to the county. 14.1% of residents are uninsured.
A bus route takes passengers from Fairplay to Denver for $15.50 one-way. Senior citizens have transportation services to shopping, medical appointments and other trips offered by the non-profit Senior Coalition.
History and Geography
Summit County was one of Colorado’s original seventeen counties outlined in 1861. At that time, Summit County was much larger than it is today, and was later divided into the seven counties of Grand, Routt, Eagle, Garfield, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Summit. From 1850 to 1910, Colorado’s gold and silver rush flourished in Summit County beneath the skyscraping peaks of the Continental Divide. Today, Summit County is bordered by the neighboring counties of Clear Creek, Grand, Park, Lake and Eagle.
Found in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Summit County was named for the area’s many mountain summits. In comparison to other Colorado counties Summit County is much smaller, comprised of only 619 square miles. Although one of the smaller counties in Colorado, Summit boasts four major ski resorts and six incorporated towns (Silverthorne, Dillon, Frisco, Breckenridge, Blue River Montezuma and Heeney) playing host to nearly 2,000,000 visitors per year.
Summit County is one of the most populous counties in Colorado. The county is considered rural, with a population density of 46.3 persons per square mile. From 1970 to 1980, the population of Summit County grew an astonishing 232%, the highest in the nation. Much of this growth can be attributed to the opening of Arapahoe Basin (1946), Breckenridge (1960), Keystone (1970), and Copper Mountain (1972) ski resorts, and the development of the Eisenhower Tunnel in 1973. Since then, the county has continued to see growth, with a 45.6% increase in population between 1980 and 1990, 82.8% between 1990 and 2000, and 18.9% in the last decade.
Based on the US Census 5-year estimates for 2013, the resident population age has decreased from a median age of 36.4 years in 2010 to 36 years in 2013. However, the State Demographer projects the county’s median age will increase to 37.7 in 2015 and 38.9 in 2020, indicative of an aging population.
In Summit County 18.9% of the population, or 1,436 households, live below the Colorado Self-Sufficiency Standard. In specific terms, a single parent with a preschool-age child in Summit County must earn $4,592 per month to achieve basic self-sufficiency and pay for housing, childcare, food, transportation and health care. However, the average wage, as reported by the US Census for the County, is only $2,881 per month, a deficit of $1,711.
Historically, Summit County has experienced two boom eras. In 1859, gold was discovered in the Breckenridge area and mining dominated early economic growth. During the 1990s, the economy surged with new building and village development at the base of the ski areas of Keystone, Breckenridge and Copper Mountain. Today, Summit County has a strong economy with high visitor and retail sales numbers during both summer and winter seasons. The median family income is $63,697, which is $5,264 above the state average.
The majority of jobs in Summit County are low paying, seasonal, service sector positions that often lack health care and benefits packages. January 2014 Colorado Labor Market data indicate 61% of jobs are in the top three sectors: Accommodations and Food Services; Retail Trade; and Arts, Entertainment and Recreation. Of the top nine employers in Summit County (by number of employees), all but one are in the service and recreation sectors, led by Keystone Resort and Copper Mountain Resort. By keeping employees on a part-time, seasonal basis, employers are able to avoid paying for health insurance. Frequently, just as employees are about to reach their six-month eligibility for insurance, they are laid off.
As such, the major economic challenge in Summit County is not a lack of jobs, but rather the type of existing job opportunities. In October 2014 the unemployment rate throughout the area remained relatively low at 3.4% compared to the state rate of 3.7%. However, the seasonal nature of the work and the low salaries in the service sector result in a large number of “working poor”. In Summit County, unemployment rates cycle on a very regular seasonal trend, with higher rates of employment during the winter months. Those most severely affected by the recent recession were service sector workers who were laid off with a downturn in the tourist economy.
There is perhaps no area in which the population of Summit County is more differentiated than income level. The county has a high cost of living, driven largely by the tourist economy and second homeowners. The cost of living is estimated to be 20% higher in Summit County than the national average, creating great difficulty for individuals and families with limited income.
The Summit School District encompasses six elementary schools, one middle school, and two high schools serving approximately 3,151 students (preschool – 12th grade). An estimated 63% of students are white, 33% Hispanic and 4% other ethnicities. Of all students, 37.4% qualify for free or reduced meals and 25.8% are English language learners. The high school graduation rate is 87.6% compared to the state average of 73.9%. Summit County students scored above the state average on the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) tests.
Summit School District received the highest accreditation rating (Accredited with Distinction), a rating given by the state based on student achievement, student academic growth, closing achievement gaps, graduation rate, dropout rate, and ACT scores. Just 27 districts in Colorado were recognized with this distinction in 2014.
The district also provides a pre-collegiate program which seeks to mentor first generation college-bound students. For the past three years, 100% of pre-collegiate seniors have graduated from high school AND enrolled in college.
Summit School District was one of just 10 districts in the state to receive the English Language Proficiency Act Excellence Award in 2014 for the success of English language learners in their academic achievement, academic growth and language growth. Dillon Valley Elementary was awarded the Exemplary National Dual Language School award, one of just four in the nation in 2014. Additionally, Dillon Valley, Breckenridge, and Frisco schools have consistently received the Governor’s Award for Distinguished Student Growth, with 10 awards between the three schools in the past five years.
Early childhood education providers in the district are similarly well-qualified. All preschools have received 4 Stars, the highest rating given on the state’s Preschool Qualistar Rating System. The district’s Headstart programs are in the top 10% in the nation as measured by federal auditors.
Health & Social Well-Being
Summit County is served by St. Anthony Summit Medical Center (SASMC) in Frisco, a Level III trauma center serviced by Flight for Life. The hospital has 35 beds, including medical, surgical, pediatric, maternity and specialty care (ICU) beds. Its satellite Level V clinics are located in Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Keystone and provide urgent care facilities during the ski season. There are a variety of other health care providers with supporting specialists. Major practices include: High Country Health Care, Ebert Family Clinic (Frisco), and Mind Springs Health (formerly Colorado West Regional Mental Health Center).
In 2014 the Family & Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC) provided services to over 3,500 locals, of which 1,560 were Hispanic (46%), white (52%) and other (2%) clients. Approximately 54% of the client’s incomes were more than 100% of the federal poverty level. FIRC also assisted over 250 residents with housing counseling, and assisted 223 residents in applying for Medicaid or CHP+ Health. The organization provided 1,839 people with food through their food bank program with 79% of participants using the food bank one to three times per year.
The Summit Stage is a public service providing free bus transportation to visitors and locals between the towns and ski resorts in Summit County. The Stage serves 1.75 million riders annually and has been operated by the county since 1989. The Stage is funded by a sales tax that was imposed in 1990, in addition to grants from the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Federal Transportation Administration. An additional tax was instated in 2001 to provide late-night services. The Town of Breckenridge also offers a free ride transit system, and the Frisco Transfer Center serves as a Greyhound Bus stop.
Even with a free public transportation system, 23% of Hispanic residents reported transportation as a barrier to accessing health care. While 90% of non-Hispanics residents reported driving themselves to receive health care, only 44% of the Hispanics residents drove their own car to appointments.
Summit County also has limited private taxi and shuttle services like Colorado Mountain Express that provide local and regional transportation, as well as some services to Denver and other major hubs. These private services often have high fares and are not easily accessible for low-income populations.
History and Geography
Teller County was formed on March 23, 1899. Named for US Senator Henry M. Teller, Teller County contains 557 square miles of land and 2 square miles of water. Teller County begins 20 miles west of Colorado Springs and is accessed via State Highway 24 West. It is almost directly in the center of the state, and encompasses elevations ranging from 8,000 feet in Woodland Park to over 14,000 on the back side of Pikes Peak. The county seat is Cripple Creek.
Gold was discovered in Cripple Creek in 1890 by cowboy and part time prospector, Bob Womack, a discovery that would change this landscape forever. By 1900 more than 50,000 people called “the district” home. “The district” refers to the entire gold mining area (approximately 3 square miles) and includes Victor, Cripple Creek, Goldfield, and many towns which have disappeared. The value of gold mined in Teller County is greater than all other gold mining operations ever conducted in the United States combined.
The population of Teller County was 23,272 in 2014, which is a very slight decrease of -0.09% from 2010. Teller County is primarily white (90.1%), and the next largest ethnic group is Hispanic or Latino (5.7%). The majority of residents of Teller County (94.9%) speak English at home. The median age in Teller County is 48.8, which is older than the Colorado median of 3.6 years, with about 19% of the population under the age of 18, and about 14% of the population 65 and older.
The largest industries in Teller County are: mining, accommodation & food services, retail trade, medical industry, and education services. In Teller County the median household income is $62,559, and the average home price is $233,300. There are only eight USDA low-income housing units available in Teller County. Education
Teller County has two school districts: Cripple Creek-Victor and Woodland Park with 7 public schools and an enrollment of 2,994. 15.1% of the children enrolled are experiencing poverty, 63% are on free or reduced lunch, and 30% of Teller County fourth graders are not proficient in reading. Teller County shares an early childhood council with Park County.
Teller County currently has a high school graduation rate of 93.1%, which is higher than the Colorado overall rate. In Teller County only 30.9% of the current permanent population have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is lower than the Colorado average of 37.5%.
Health and Human Services
Of the population, 11.5% are uninsured and 13.6% are enrolled in Medicaid. Pikes Peak Regional Hospital and Surgery Center is located just outside Woodland Park. Centura Health runs the Cripple Creek Medical Center and recently became the medical provider for the Cripple Creek Victor School-based Health Center.
Teller County has seen significant strides in transportation over the last five years. An objective listed in the 2015 Teller Strategic Plan is to maintain the safety of county roads. The community created a local coordinating council to assess and fill gaps in transportation. The City of Cripple Creek runs a city shuttle around Cripple Creek. They initiated a partnership with the City of Victor to provide four round trips between Cripple Creek and Victor daily. The City of Cripple Creek now transports weekly to Woodland Park. They can then use the TSC Circulator public transportation system within Woodland Park.