Annual Pioneer Picnic reunites Routt County’s old-timers |

Annual Pioneer Picnic reunites Routt County’s old-timers

Routt County Pioneer Picnic attendees from left, Carol Stehley, Beverley Lehrer-Brennan, Candice Bannister and Julie Solley admire a cake Sunday decorated with a picture of an early Routt County pioneer picnic taken in 1900.
Scott Franz

— When Jo Semotan started to plan this year’s Routt County Pioneer Picnic, she considered adding music to the annual event. Or a dance floor. Or a formal program.

But Semotan decided those things could distract from the gathering’s real draw.

“What makes this picnic is the people,” Semotan said as she gestured towards a large room in the Steamboat Springs Community Center where she and more than 50 other descendents of Routt County pioneers spent the afternoon eating a smorgasbord of beef, pastas and desserts together.

With hundreds of years of life in the Yampa Valley shared among them, the longtime county residents had a lot to talk about Sunday.

“We’ve got coal miners, ranchers, farmers and shopkeepers. You have people here who are still on the same ranch or farm their great-grandparents homesteaded,” said Semotan, a 1957 Steamboat Springs High School graduate

Follow her around the annual picnic and Semotan eagerly points to many individuals who can use a single word to say how long they’ve lived in the Yampa Valley.

“Forever,” pioneer descendent Susi Harris Crowner said.

Crowner, whose grandfather Byron Harris helped found the Colorado-Utah Coal Co.’s Harris mine in what is now Mt. Harris Canyon between Steamboat Springs and Hayden, explained that the annual picnic is as important today as it was in its infancy at the turn of the 20th century.

“Our history is disappearing,” she said. “This helps keep it alive.”

To help grow attendance, Semotan said the picnic was opened to “newcomers” about six years ago. She said some of Routt County’s first pioneer picnics admitted only pioneers who lived in the area for at least three years. The gathering’s location typically moves across the county every two years, and next year’s picnic will be hosted in Hayden.

“This is just like a high school reunion,” pioneer descendant Chris Andrew said. “Right now everyone is updating their friends on who is alive and who is not, and who feels great and who doesn’t.”

The pioneer descendants’ bloodlines in Routt dated as far back as 1884, according to the event’s guest log. Semotan said seven to eight generations of Routt County residents were invited to the picnic this year.

Sunday’s gathering was sponsored by the Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat. The museum hired a videographer to record the oral histories of several attendees.

“It’s a rare occasion to have this many pioneers in the same room under one roof,” Tread of Pioneers Executive Director Candice Bannister said. “It’s a special occasion.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email

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