Tales from the Tread: The economic, cultural and environmental power of heritage and place

Moon Hill School on Routt County Road 129. (Photo by John Lanterman)

May is Historic Preservation month — a time dedicated to celebrating our history and heritage through historic places. Each May and year-round, local heritage organizations, like the Tread of Pioneers Museum, Historic Routt County and others, join together to honor the special places that shape the character and authenticity of Routt County and encourage historic preservation.

Historic structures not only represent our history; they also foster community pride, promote heritage tourism and reveal real social and economic benefits for today’s communities. Historic buildings are our community’s largest and most visible artifacts, no less deserving of care and preservation as the most treasured items in a museum’s collection.

The historic buildings on Lincoln Avenue and in Old Town provide valuable context and connection to our past. While Steamboat Springs did not develop as a result of large mineral mining booms and does not boast the wealth and ornate buildings of some other storied mountain towns, our built environment reveals our own unique and modest history that is worthy of celebration and preservation.

Steamboat’s heritage is what makes us competitive and memorable in the resort marketplace and an extraordinary place to live and visit. But historic preservation is intentional, and our heritage and historic resources are ultimately at risk without strengthened protections.

What is historic preservation, and why is it important?

Historic preservation is an effort to preserve, conserve and/or protect buildings, objects, landscapes or other artifacts of historical significance. Historic preservation includes physical preservation (such as stabilization, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction), designation to historical registries and documentation of a site, building or landmark that has been deemed significant to the history of the area, place or community.

Preservation of the built environment contributes to neighborhood vitality, livability, diversity and quality of life. Economic benefits of historic preservation include:

Financial incentives: Significant state grants, tax credits and more are available for qualifying projects to reward building owners for their efforts to preserve community heritage.

Job creation: Approximately 14 new jobs are generated for every $1 million spent on preservation projects.

Sustainability: Historic preservation is closely intertwined with sustainability since the “greenest” building is the one that already exists.

Tourism economy: Historic preservation is increasingly a key driver behind the state’s powerful tourism industry. Tourists report a desire to visit, interact with and stay at historic places while ensuring economic stability regardless of snowfall levels or recreational interests.

Property value increases: Designation of local historic districts stabilizes and strengthens towns and neighborhoods, typically enhancing property values.

Community identity: Creativity, learning and identity are all fostered when a community saves its historic landscapes and buildings.

When compared with Aspen, Breckenridge, Crested Butte and Telluride, Steamboat is the only one of these ski towns without mandatory historic preservation protections. This means that any historic building (one that is 50 years old or more, whether identified as significant or not) is at risk of being demolished, unless voluntarily listed by the owner on the local Steamboat Springs register. The result is what we are witnessing now: As property sales and values soar, buildings that contribute to the identity of our community are being demolished or dramatically altered at an alarming rate.

Currently, voluntary listing the city of Steamboat Springs’ historical register is the only way to truly ensure protection of the town’s historic resources. Thanks to the stewardship of caring property owners across the county, and the ongoing advocacy efforts of preservation organizations and dedicated volunteers, many of our cherished historic places and landmarks are still standing.

A local grassroots alliance of Historic Routt County and the Tread of Pioneers Museum is working together to advocate and help preserve Steamboat’s character, authenticity and heritage that is showcased through the built environment. You can join the cause by supporting these organizations, cherishing our local heritage, caring for your historic property and voicing your support of historic preservation. If you would like to be more directly involved in preserving Routt County and Steamboat’s special places, contact Candice Bannister,, or Emily Katzman, We welcome you.

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