Annual Pioneer Picnic to celebrate heritage and a centennial
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Imagine leaving behind relatives and friends, packing a life into a wagon and setting out to the uncharted West. Some of the first Routt County pioneers did just that in the 1800s.
Leaving family behind only to create a new one, the early settlers started the Pioneer Picnic in 1886 as the annual reunion for the homesteaders to swap stories. It also served as a way to preserve the pioneer heritage that defined the early years of the region. On June 14, 1904, the first official Pioneer Picnic was held in Hayden.
“You don’t know really who you are or where you’re going, unless you know where you’ve been or your past,” said Laurel Watson, executive director of the Hayden Heritage Museum. “It gives you a strong foundation to build upon.”
The town will host the 114th annual Pioneer Picnic from noon to 3 p.m. today at the Hayden Heritage Museum. Not only that, it will also celebrate the Hayden Depot’s 100th anniversary, featuring a historic presentation by Dave Naples playing railroad tycoon David Moffat; live music with Phil Beckett; and a presentation of a Historic Register Plaque by Emily Katzman of Historic Routt County to Sally and Jim Tyler who will be giving limited antique car rides and tours of their nearby home, which was also built in 1918.
“I think it’s important to remember all the stories,” Watson said. “It provides pieces of the greater story, and it’s about celebrating the settlers — the unsung heroes who made our area what it is today.”
The Pioneer Picnic became an annual gathering at the turn of the 20th century, and attendees were required to have lived in the county for at least eight years.
One of the usual picnic organizers who is also a second-generation Yampa Valley resident Jo Semotan said in its early years, the gathering was exclusively for the pioneers who got together to hike and hunt game, all in the absence of television and radio.
Changing location typically every two years, the event is open to the community. All are invited to bring a favorite side dish or appetizer to share. The main dish, desserts and drinks will be provided. Donations will be accepted to help sustain future Pioneer Picnics as well as the Hayden Heritage Center Museum’s upcoming expansion project.
“There’s so much history that’s forgotten,” Watson said. “People don’t realize that, but it’s something that’s integral for future generations to learn about and remember.”
Located in the historic Moffat Railroad Depot Building since 1972, the museum (established in 1964) has exhibits on area history from the life of ranchers and homesteading to coal mining in this rugged corner of Colorado.
Watson said the Depot, built in 1918, served the community until 1968, when passenger service ceased.
The building sat vacant until 1972, which was when the original Museum Board, along with the town of Hayden, worked to get the building deeded to be the museum from the Rio Grande Railroad. It is on the national and Routt County Historic registers.
“It used to be a hub of activity,” Watson said of the Hayden Depot, which is built similar to the one in Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek.
The museum recently purchased the Denker lot adjacent to the Depot and is preparing to do the needed expansion, which includes moving the historic Holderness Granary — an 1,800-square foot, two-story building built in the 1910s out of square logs — to the museum property where it will be repurposed to house the museum’s wagon collection and other large items.
“It will also give us some stretching room allowing for new exhibits, space for community outreach education programs, and most importantly, adding much needed storage space for our ever-growing collection.
“I hope they will come visit and see the history that’s part of them, even newcomers, they are now a part of that historic record,” Watson said. “Today is tomorrow’s history and I hope attendees can feel that sense of continuing the legacy our pioneers started.”
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