Routt County ranching icon dies at 97 |

Routt County ranching icon dies at 97

Elaine Gay speaks during a Brown Bag Lecture at the Tread of Pioneers Museum in 2008. The legendary Routt County rancher died Wednesday at the age of 97.
Matt Stensland/ file photo

— Routt County lost a legendary woman Wednesday with the passing of longtime rancher Elaine Gay.

“In her life of nearly 98 years, she ran the 10-mile dash to a great life,” said Bill Gay, Elaine’s son.

Elaine grew up on the old Kemry place on Routt County Road 24. She and her late husband, Bob Gay, founded the Green Creek Ranch 67 years ago in the Pleasant Valley, also known as the Lake Catamount area.

“She was a legend in our valley and we will miss her dearly,” said Marsha Daughenbaugh, executive director of the Community Ag Alliance and president of Routt County CattleWomen.

Ranch life was not easy, particularly during the winter months in Pleasant Valley. The Gays usually left their car beside their mailbox, which sat along a main road. They used a horse-drawn sleigh to go back and forth between their car and their house.

Elaine loved Pleasant Valley, and she fought to protect it.

In the 1990s, the Gays became well-known in the community when they adamantly opposed plans for a large ski resort in the area that would have forever altered the landscape and brought up to 10,000 new people to town.

Elaine took a stand against big money and the pressure from real estate developers, but she went about it in a professional way.

“She was the epitome of feminism in the Old West in that she knew how to approach the subject with the greatest of grace and yet determination and thoughtfulness,” Bill Gay said. “Achievement was her greatest asset.”

Instead of a ski resort, a 3,296 conservation easement was placed around Lake Catamount.

“She thought that was more important than concrete and pavement,” Bill Gay said. “She was willing to stand up and gracefully say what was in the best interest for the community.”

Elaine had many talents. She was a painter and avid gardener, but possibly she was best known for her cooking. Her specialties were banana cream pie and French bread.

“She entertained with a flare and a flavor of cooking that was extraordinary,” Bill Gay said.

She always had food ready for family, visitors and ranch hands and would insist on people having a second, third or fourth helping.

The secret to filling so many bellies, she said in 2004, is “get up early and get busy.”

Elaine was also a writer, and she authored two books. “Cowpokes, Cowpies and Otherwise,” was a cookbook interspersed with stories from the ranch. “How Pleasant is the Valley” chronicled the history of the area.

Elaine would visit local fourth-grade classes every year to offer children a first-hand account of ranching in the Yampa Valley during an earlier era. She was acknowledged numerous times for her community involvement, including in 2002, when she was honored with the Hazie Werner Award For Excellence.

“A truly dynamic person of her time, and yet she loved to have fun,” Bill Gay said.

Elaine’s memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Steamboat Christian Center. Interment will be at the Steamboat Springs Cemetery and will be followed by a gathering and lunch cooked by the Routt County CattleWomen.

“The family would love to have everyone attend,” Bill Gay said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.