Article by Laurie Wagner Buyer
Roadside Attractions – July 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine
YEARS AGO BUFFALO ROAMED HERE, and Ute Indians hunted along the pine-timbered ridges and grassy bottoms of the South Fork of the South Platte River. When the homesteaders and ranchers arrived in South Park this was the domain of the Harringtons, the 63 Ranch, and Tom McQuaid’s Salt Works Ranch; cattle replaced the buffalo, and cowboys rode the rocky hills.
Now, this small section of backcountry is home to weekend adventurers seeking a getaway and to retirees wanting the cool air and beautiful vistas of the Colorado high country.
Off of U.S. Highway 285 between Fairplay and Antero Junction, CORA looks like a mini-city of RVs nestled side by side on the valley floor. Other recreational vehicles are tucked out of sight, in aspen-bordered nooks or surrounded by pine shade on a high ridge. Here, six hundred acres of land are held in common for the owners of 512 lots, ranging in size from 0.09 to 0.27 acres.
The idea of an RV park where people own their lots (instead of renting them) was a novel concept back in the late 1970s when CORA was an infant idea. The history stems from the sale of the large land holdings of pioneer rancher Tom McQuaid to Walker Lumber of Pueblo.
For many years the land remained in agriculture. When Walker sold to Western Union Realty, a division of Western Union Telegraph, Fairplay resident Harley Hamilton was hired to do the planning, surveying, and engineering of the land.
The biggest tracts near Antero Junction were developed as home sites. Harley Hamilton remembers doing a lot of brainstorming over the isolated section of ground across the highway from the 63 Ranch.
“Most subdivisions would not allow RV’s or campers on their lots. I realized that there was a real need for RV owners to have a place to come in South Park where they could access all the great recreational activities like hunting, fishing, and hiking,” he said in a telephone interview.
Harley felt this section of ground would be a perfect spot because it backed up to National Forest lands and had close proximity to Antero Reservoir. At the time, most RV campgrounds, like KOA, rented sites for only the night or by the week. Harley felt that being able to buy an RV site in a lovely location would give purchasers the convenience and comfort of an established campsite as well as “pride in ownership.”
In the beginning, Western Union RV Park, as it was then called, was a “hit” with people from Denver and Colorado Springs who wanted to go to the high country to camp but did not like the frustration of finding a campsite on public lands.
But in the mid-80s Western Union went out of business, and the RV Park ownership was turned over to the Home Owners’ Association. They changed their name to Campground of the Rockies Association or CORA. Today, the land is developed into four separate campgrounds, all named for departed mountain railroads — the Denver, South Park & Pacific; the Colorado & Southern; the Rio Grande Southern; and the Silverton Northern.
Two hundred lots have full hook-ups complete with electricity, water, and sewer. And 312 lots have electricity at the lot line with centrally located service centers that offer showers, sinks, toilets, potable water, and disposal sites. Lots are approximately 40′ x 100′ or about 4, 000 square feet.
At the heart of CORA there is the manager’s home, a large clubhouse, a covered swimming pool with locker rooms, a tennis court, a nine-hole desert golf course, volley ball court, playground, baseball diamond, basketball court, horseshoes, hiking paths, launderette, maintenance barn, horse corrals, plus a Flight for Life helipad for emergency medical use, and a public phone with a message board.
With only one access off of Highway 285, members are assured of security with a coded gate entrance. CORA is privately owned — opened only to member owners and their guests — and is not affiliated with any other organization. No rentals are allowed.
With its own wells, sewer system, and propane center, CORA is also relatively self-sufficient. Owners are given a warranty deed and title insurance when they purchase a lot just as they would with any other piece of real estate. The property is then theirs to buy, sell, transfer, or assign to heirs.
Each owner pays real estate taxes on their specific lot, plus annual dues of $270 to $374 which pay for water, sewer, trash pickup, and all the in common facilities. Electric services are billed twice annually. Lot prices range from $10,350 for those with full hook-ups to $5,500 for more remote sites with service centers. Location, view, and terrain are factors in the price of individual lots.
ON A SUNNY September afternoon, I drove to CORA for a guest tour. An intercom at the security gate allowed me access. I parked by the clubhouse and was met immediately by Eva Lundstrom. Eva and her husband, Wayne, serve as on-site, year-’round managers.
As Eva led me into the large bright clubhouse she explained that they have been doing some remodeling of the community kitchen. “We have so much talent here. Everyone volunteers their time to help.” Every day there is “coffee and chat” at the clubhouse. Social gatherings are common most nights — with a special “grill night with potluck” a well-attended highlight.
The clubhouse has a small library with books and movie videos. There is a TV, stereo system, games for the children, cards and dominoes for the adults, and comfortable chairs and couches abound. A majestic 7-point bull elk and a regal antelope grace the walls, and big windows look out onto the pool area and golf course.
“We are just like a regular community here,” Eva explains. We have a Rules and Regulations Board and a Social Board which alerts members and guests to events going on. We take incoming phone messages and leave notes for folks on a board by the public phone. A monthly calendar keeps everyone apprised of what’s happening — when the potlucks are, when the facilities meetings are, when the board meets.”
A community directory lets owners know who their neighbors are, and a monthly newsletter called HUMMER is an outlet for CORA happenings.
Mail service is available at the post office in Fairplay 16 miles away, but a newsstand at the clubhouse provides current local and city papers. Local UHF stations and satellite service are available for personal RV television use.
When I ask Eva if she and Wayne have a busy schedule, she confides that they have been living at CORA for nineteen months and it feels like they are always on the run. Over the Fourth of July weekend last summer they had 400-500 people.
As part of a management team, Eva answers the phone and deals with people’s questions, as well as handling office work, cleaning the clubhouse, and giving tours.
Wayne makes a twice daily security run over the entire property, fills propane tanks, and handles all the major maintenance problems. This past year CORA installed sidewalks around the clubhouse, enclosed and remodeled the pool area, provided handicapped access and parking, and regraveled the community roads.
EVA AND I STROLL through the launderette and the shower/locker rooms which are open year-’round. The pool, however, is only open from May 15 through September 15. Enclosed by glass, the pool is like a tropical paradise. The solar-heated area reaches day time temperatures of 120° and the water is kept at 84°. Water ærobic classes are taught by members.
Everything is clean and comfortable, in a very relaxing atmosphere. In addition to the amenities on site, CORA also shares the fishing rights to Buffalo Creek Reservoir with homeowners at Western Union (now called RORA — Ranch of the Rockies Association). In addition, hiking, camping, backpacking, hunting, cross-country skiing, fishing, and horseback riding are all easily accessible.
As Eva and I drive around the different campgrounds, she explains the owners’ rights and responsibilities. Each lot has room for the owner’s RV plus a guest RV. If room is available, owners may also have additional cars or boats parked on their lots. Owners are allowed to build on decks or add a shed. They can plant trees, landscape as they wish, or build open fences surrounding their lots.
RVs must stay “movable,” complete with axles and wheels, and each owner must have an RVIA sticker on their RV which certifies it for electrical and plumbing codes. The longest RV allowed is 40 feet.
As we pass, I see that many lots are simple and sedate, but others are lovingly decorated with yard ornaments, hand-crafted name signs, green lawns, flowers, bird feeders, and outdoor furniture.
The drive from the valley floor to the high ridge is two miles of breathtaking views. As we climb higher and higher, from 9,200 to 9,700 feet, the width and breadth of South Park opens before us. We can see Pikes Peak in the far distance, plus every twist and curve in the river. The glassy expanse of Antero Reservoir and the mirror-like gem of the fishing lake both gleam below. Buffalo Peaks and the Continental Divide provide spectacular views. From here there are miles of hiking and walking trails through the National Forest all the way to the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Area.
I asked Eva what kind of people are part of CORA. “We have retired people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s who have winter homes in places like Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas who come here in the summer to escape the southern heat. We have family weekenders who come up from Denver and the front range cities for a backcountry getaway.
“Our members are from many states but the ones that come to mind are Indiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Washington, Texas, Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, and California. Everyone is different and from different places. The one thing they all have in common is that they all love the RV way of life.”
THE RV WAY OF LIFE has its critics. Harley Hamilton told me that when CORA was first designed and developed he had many complaints from area land owners that it looked like a tin village. “It may be justifiable criticism, but the fact remained that there were many, many people who owned RVs and needed and wanted a place to come to. A place they could call their own. CORA is highly successful. Two or three years after it opened other member-owned RV parks like Tiger Run in Breckenridge were developed. Many people do not want a 35-acre piece of property. Nor do they want even an acre or two. All they want is a clean, private, secure place to camp out. CORA and other member-owned RV parks provide that service.”
As I leave CORA after my tour, Eva once again emphasizes the importance of community to their members. “We all know each other, we all help each other. We like being a `town’ in our own rights, but we also want to be more involved in the community of our area. We attend the Burro Days celebration in Fairplay and enter floats in the parade. It is an enjoyable, fun event for all of us. We like our isolation and our privacy but we also want people to know that we are friends and neighbors.”
I can certainly vouch for that — since my short time at CORA was a real learning experience where I was welcomed warmly and sent home with a new appreciation for RV owners and their way of life.
Laurie Wagner Buyer writes from the DM Ranch near Fairplay, where she also rides the range and raises critters. Her most recent book is Glass-Eyed Paint in the Rain, a collection of poetry.