College on the hill: Celebrating the history of Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs

Teresa Ristow
CMC's history through the years 1951—Lucy Bogue first considers idea of starting a college in Steamboat Springs 1962—Yampa Valley College opens, with classes held around town 1966—Willett, Bogue and Monson halls are built on Woodchuck Hill; name is changed to Colorado Alpine College 1969—Colorado Alpine College folds; and the campus is purchased by United States International University 1975—USIU shutters Steamboat campus, and college is rented out for various purposes through 1979 1978—Yampa Valley Foundation forms to save college 1980—A proposed local taxing district to fund a college is turned down by state; foundation aligns with Colorado Mountain College 1981—Voters of Steamboat Springs School District boundaries vote to tax themselves as part of CMC district 1990s—Bristol Hall, Anderson building and Hill Hall constructed 2011—College earns approval to offer bachelor’s degrees 2012—New academic center opens 2017—CMC celebrates 50 years, while Steamboat’s campus recognizes its 50th year with campus and 36th year with CMC

Celebrating CMC's 50th

Steamboat Springs will celebrate Colorado Mountain College’s 50-year anniversary with a reception and program beginning at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11 on the third floor of the academic center. A $10 Winter Carnival button is required for entry, and heavy appetizers and refreshments will be served. The program will be followed by viewing of the Winter Carnival fireworks. Parking is limited. For more information and to RSVP, call 970-870-4423 or visit Anyone interested in sharing or reading stories of the people who’ve created and shaped Colorado Mountain College is invited to visit

Today, the Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs campus is abuzz with activity and largely successful — with students pursuing associates and bachelor’s degrees in fields such as ski business and sustainability studies, local residents attending community cooking and fitness courses and a skilled staff committed to educating the next group of eager students.

But Steamboat’s first and only college was not always the picture of success. Tough times in the 1970s saw the campus shuttered, with books tossed in dumpsters and students saying goodbye to the hopes of earning their degrees near the base of a ski mountain in rural Colorado.

The story of Steamboat’s campus is one of perseverance and includes a community willing to fight and fund a college in Steamboat Springs.

This year, Colorado Mountain College celebrates 50 years as a college system in Colorado, and the Steamboat Springs campus recognizes its own 50th year as a campus and 36th year as a part of CMC.

The pioneering years

George Tolles remembers meeting Lucile Bogue while the two were teachers at The Lowell Whiteman School in Strawberry Park in the 1950s.

“We became friends,” said Tolles, who still lives in Steamboat today.

Years later, while traveling as a foreign service officer in the U.S. State Department, Tolles heard from Bogue, who was in the early stages of beginning a college in Steamboat.

“I received a telegraph from Lucy Bogue, and she said, ‘Guess what, George? I’ve started a college in Steamboat Springs. Why don’t you come teach?’” Tolles recalled. “And so, that’s what I did.”

As Bogue recounts in her 1987 book “Miracle on a Mountain,” 11 students gathered at the Methodist Church for the first day of classes in September 1962.

“The community felt very warm and close that afternoon,” Bogue said, “like a big family that had pulled off some kind of miracle, all of us fast friends.”

The school aimed to be a four-year college, with an emphasis on international relations. The first students came from across the country, and as far away as Kenya and Argentina.

There was no campus and no dorms, so students stayed with Bogue in exchange for shoveling snow or with other host families in town, Tolles recalled.

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Classes were held in churches, at motels and elsewhere on Lincoln Avenue.

By the second year, the campus had grown to 26 full-time students, and 60 more community members were registered for classes.

Bogue served initially as college president, but as the school grew and other responsibilities took more of her time, the college’s board brought in new administrators to run the expanding college.

Alumnus Charlie Eckstrom remembers arriving in Steamboat Springs in 1964 as a transfer student from Menlo College in California.

“There was a core group of six or eight professors that just made it wonderful for young people to come and learn and find themselves,” Eckstrom said. “I liked the small town, and I made a conscious decision to stay and not return to Menlo.”

The college moved into its permanent home on Woodchuck Hill in 1966, constructing three buildings — Monson, Willett and Bogue, named in Lucile Bogue’s honor — that served as a combination of dorm rooms, faculty offices and classrooms.

“It was kind of exciting,” Tolles said. “We couldn’t believe that it was actually a campus.”

A campus in limbo

Despite steady enrollment, in 1969, Colorado Alpine College folded, and the school was purchased by United States International University, a San Diego-based college operator.

USIU in 1975 chose to shutter the school, leaving the Steamboat Springs campus in limbo.

Tolles, who taught classes in world history, politics and German, remembers that teachers taught through the end of the year, before students began to leave and dumpsters were filled with books.

“It collapsed,” Tolles said.

During the next five years, the campus served various purposes, including as housing for visiting skiers and as an outreach center for Colorado Northwestern Community College.

In 1978, after hearing that USIU planned to sell the college and land to a commercial developer to be used for apartments, community members banded together to regain local control of the campus.

Steamboat Chamber President Bill Hill worked with early college founders and coal mining company Energy Fuels to form the nonprofit Yampa Valley Foundation — a group that worked to regain control by purchasing back the debt-ridden campus from USIU.

“It was clear that Steamboat Springs did not want to lose the Alpine Campus,” Hill wrote in a memoir called “Born Again: The College Too Tough to Die.” “Something had to be done.”

Members of the foundation’s original board of directors included Energy Fuels President Jack Eatherton, Alpine Federal Savings President Rex Pielstick, Hill, attorney Tim Borden and John Fetcher, an original founder of Yampa Valley College, among others.

Energy Fuels owner Bob Adams, a philanthropic Steamboater whose generosity is recognized throughout the city today, heard of the foundation’s goal to buy back the college and donated the $60,000 needed to do so.

But the community no longer supported having a college that doubled as a private business venture, Hill recalled in his memoir.

And Hill, who volunteered to give up his post at the Chamber and become college administrator, inherited a campus in disrepair, with overdue bills, rundown dormitories. The only classes being taught were part of the CNCC outreach center.

Channeling the pioneering “Alpine Spirit” of Bogue, Hill said he and the foundation worked tirelessly to restart a community-minded Steamboat Springs-based college at the site.

The group first attempted to create a local taxing district to fund the college, but the idea was turned down by the state.

Then, in 1981, voters in the Steamboat Springs School District were asked whether they’d tax themselves to fund the future of the campus as part of Colorado Mountain College, a regional community college system with a presence already in Leadville, Glenwood Springs, Salida, Eagle and Rifle.

Stability within CMC

Steamboat Springs voters in May 1981 expressed their interest and financial support for Steamboat’s college, and a proposition to join the CMC taxing district passed with 2-to-1 support.

Colorado Mountain College classes began in fall 1981, and in addition to some returning faculty, including Tolles, new staff was brought in from CMC to help usher the campus into a new era.

Leadville faculty member George Bagwell was tapped to serve as campus dean — the highest-ranking, on-site administrator.

“The president (of the college) said it was my job to bring that Steamboat campus into the fold,” said Bagwell, who still lives in Steamboat today.

He remembers extensive work that had to take place to update the school’s curriculum, eliminating the horseshoeing certificate program and others in favor of new programs in ski business, computers and a larger focus on liberal arts.

Though CMC provided a stable funding base, a national recession postponed any new building on the campus, which was still anchored by three quirky buildings designed as “living-learning” centers, with classrooms in the center and dorms and offices around the exterior.

Celebrating CMC’s 50th

Steamboat Springs will celebrate Colorado Mountain College’s 50-year anniversary with a reception and program beginning at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11 on the third floor of the academic center.

A $10 Winter Carnival button is required for entry, and heavy appetizers and refreshments will be served.

The program will be followed by viewing of the Winter Carnival fireworks.

Parking is limited. For more information and to RSVP, call 970-870-4423 or visit

Anyone interested in sharing or reading stories of the people who’ve created and shaped Colorado Mountain College is invited to visit

“At the time, there wasn’t money for construction,” said John Vickery, another Leadville transplant who arrived in Steamboat in 1982 to serve as dean of instruction and later, campus dean from 1988 to 2000.

In the late 1980s, CMC worked to strengthen its transfer programs, ensuring students could easily transition into four-year universities after completing their two years at CMC.

A modern campus

By the early 1990s, a recovered economy made way for new construction at CMC’s Steamboat campus. Bristol Hall, which housed offices, classrooms, the library and central administration, was built in 1992. A physical plant, the Anderson building, was constructed in 1995, and in 1997, a dormitory named Hill Hall was completed.

Each of those buildings still stands on the 65-acre campus today.

Fast forward to 2011, and there were two significant milestones for CMC’s Steamboat Springs campus — ground was broken on a new $18 million, 60,000-square-foot academic center, and the college received accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission to offer its first bachelor’s degrees in sustainability studies and business administration.

Bagwell, who retired in 2013, said he was surprised and pleased when the college pursued the option of awarding bachelor’s degrees.

“I was very pleased to see it happen here,” he said. “That was always Lucy’s intent.”

The completed academic center was built with the community in mind, with popular fitness classes taught just off the building’s front entrance, the third floor’s Neas Dining Hall and a coffee shop open to the public and the Albright Auditorium regularly hosting public events.

The Yampa Valley Entrepreneurship Center, which helps students and community members alike in their pursuits to start new small businesses, sits on the center’s second floor.

“It’s really a community resource,” said Vickery, who retired from CMC in 2000 but has twice served as the campus’ interim dean during transitions.

A state-of-the art kitchen on the building’s third floor has allowed the campus to expand its culinary arts program and offer dozens of community cooking courses annually.

Today, CMC’s Steamboat Springs campus employs more than 100 full-time faculty and 400 full-time staff, as well as more than 600 part-time faculty and staff members.

Together, they serve more than 2,500 credit and non-credit students each year, and in 2016, the college awarded Steamboat Springs students 24 bachelor’s degrees, 91 associate’s degrees and 57 certificates.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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