Tramway opens, as does a new chapter in Glenwood history
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Judy Hampton wanted to make sure she was one of the first in line for Iron Mountain Tramway’s opening day Saturday. The long-time Glenwood Springs resident arrived at the tram base at 9 a.m., an hour before the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“This is huge for Glenwood,” she said, waiting patiently in a line that snaked nearly to the Land Rover car dealership across Two Rivers Plaza. “It’s historic. We’ve got four kids and we’re going to get a family pass.”
Bright red and yellow balloons flew overhead while the Glenwood Springs High School pep band serenaded the crowd. They, too, were eager to take a ride on one of the tramway’s eight six-seater gondola cars.
But first, Glenwood Springs Mayor Don Vanderhoof would need to cut the giant red ribbon connecting Glenwood Springs’ past to its future.
“Welcome to this historic occasion,” said Ron Milhorn of KMTS radio, addressing the crowd. “It’s hard to believe a year ago, parts of Glenwood Springs were on fire. But here we are today, welcoming this tram to Glenwood. This is a wonderful part of our healing process, and a wonderful way to boost morale and our economy.”
After a round of applause, Milhorn outlined the day’s activities on top of Iron Mountain, starting with a Ute Indian blessing, live music and cave tours.
Mayor Vanderhoof also addressed the crowd, thanking Jeanne and Steve Beckley and Chuck and Nancy Peterson, developers of the tramway and adventure park, who smiled and waved to the crowd.
“This tram and the caverns are every bit as important to Glenwood as the construction of the pool,” Vanderhoof said, equating the attractions to the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool.
Tramway access will allow the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park to stay open year-round.
After Melissa Miller of New Castle, a former KMTS Country Challenge talent contest winner, sang “A Moment Like This,” and “The Star Spangled Banner,” Milhorn introduced Steve Beckley to the crowd. He waved and said, “Enjoy what we’ve built!” as Mayor Vanderhoof cut the ribbon with a pair of enormous golden shears.
The first gondola cars loaded up with the Beckleys, the Petersons, the mayor and other dignitaries and contest winners, as the crowd below watched them silently glide up the mountain.
Back down in line, long-time Glenwood Springs resident Charlie Hopkins, 50, reminisced about growing up in Glenwood and investigating nearby caves.
“We liked to go into the Cave of the Clouds and Hubbard’s Cave when we were kids,” he said of two caves, one located in Iron Mountain and the other across the Colorado River.
“We were really well equipped,” he said, with a smile. “Yeah, we had little old flashlights and candles. We’d crawl around on our knees and we’d bring a rope so we could find our way out.”
Hopkins is happy to see the tramway go in.
“The valley needs this,” he said of the tram and adventure park.
As the line to ride the tram grew, tramway workers passed out copies of tram and adventure park brochures, and took names of those wanting to buy annual passes.
Generally, the crowd was good-natured in spite of the wait, which throughout the day was almost three hours long. Once aboard the tram, people relaxed and took in views from Mount Sopris and Aspen to the far reaches of the Colorado River valley.
Steve and Judy Fisher of Silt were also among the first on the tram. They waited about an hour before boarding.
“Summer or winter, it’ll be wonderful to ride the tram and have dinner up at the top,” said Judy.
“And when it gets dark early, it’ll be just beautiful to see the city lights from up here,” said Steve.
For Parker resident David Ptolemy, opening day at the tramway wasn’t just another tourist attraction to take in. It was a lot more.
Ptolemy and his two sons, Eric, 13, Scott, 15, drove to the Western Slope this weekend for Eric to take part in a golf clinic, but when the clinic was canceled they stopped in Glenwood Springs. Little did they know it was the first day of operation for the Iron Mountain Tramway and Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
“Steve is an old friend of mine,” Ptolemy explained of his high school buddy, Steve Beckley. “The last time I saw him was a couple years ago. We had dinner, and he and Jeanne were talking about these great ideas they had about building a tram and opening a mountaintop restaurant. They had such vision, but I had no idea they’d do all this so quickly.”
As he and his boys rode to the top of the tramway, Ptolemy said Steve Beckley was “always an achiever. In high school, he always talked about buying a mountain and running a heli-skiing business, stuff like that. This is just amazing. He really did it. And I’ve got a desk job.”
Up at the top of the tram, people unloaded and looked around the gift shop, filled with stuffed animal bats, bears and moose, T-shirts with “I Braved the Cave” printed on them, postcards, Petzl headlamps for cave exploration, and snacks.
In the Exclamation Point restaurant, people sat at the bar and looked out at the drop-away expansive views. The patio was packed with sunseekers, while people milled around the upper observation area.
“When I first came up here, it exceeded my expectations,” said Justin Gerrish of Glenwood Springs. “It’s not over the top, but I’m very impressed with the finishes.”
In the restaurant stone wainscotting, a free-standing fireplace, a well-appointed bar and huge windows create a contemporary, upscale look. The decks are adorned with simple railings, stealing nothing from the fantastic views.
In the afternoon, the Kline family from Carbondale rode the tramway and took a cave tour.
“It was just like a ski chairlift,” said 9-year-old Steve Kline Jr.
“On the tram coming up, I was kind of scared at first, but once I started going up, it was better,” said Bianca Kline, 16.
“I have nothing but good things to say,” added their father, Steve Kline Sr. “I didn’t anticipate the crowds, and it was a little overcrowded. Being a local, I can’t wait to come back when it’s not busy.”
Inside the caves, business was brisk. Tour guides called out when their tours were ready to start, and kids and adults followed the guides through a glass doorway stuck right into the mountain.
Meanwhile, it was caving as usual for a group of cavers from Colorado Springs.
Michael and Marre Brantner and Lee Fielder have been coming to Glenwood Springs and helping the Beckleys get the caves ready for the grand opening of the tram. In exchange, the Beckleys give them access to the undeveloped reaches of the caves. Suited up with helmets, elbow and knee pads, the group was getting ready for their own cave adventure.
“On the tours, people can see about two-thirds of what’s in this cave,” said Michael Brantner. “There are places here that no one has ever seen.”
“We’re hoping to see one of those places today,” said Fielder, as they trudged towards the cave entrance.
Saturday afternoon, Loya Cesspooch, a descendant of a prominent local Ute Indian Chief Colorow, led a group of about 100 onlookers through a Ute Indian blessing outside at the top of the tramway.
Cesspooch and about a dozen people from the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation in northeastern Utah danced and described that they were blessing the land around the tram.
“This is our original homeland,” said Cesspooch looking around at the surrounding mountains. “Before the Meeker Massacre, we lived from here to Denver. For our people, this is like a homecoming. Thank you for honoring us by inviting us here.”
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
Staff writer Greg Masse contributed to this report.
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