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The revival of Uptop, the Southern Colorado ghost town

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In the 1880s, before rollercoasters and theme parks were widely popular, there was another way for people to get their adrenaline fix: the world’s highest operating train, dubbed the “railroad above the clouds” near La Veta in Southern Colorado.

“It was like the Six Flags of America,” said Sam Lathrop, who now, with her sister, owns the land where the railroad once brought people.

“People would take this train to be terrified.”

Then, the train that went over Veta Pass would pull into a small train depot in a town called Uptop. Now, Uptop is a privately-owned ghost settlement on 429 acres that has been restored by the Lathrop sisters who originally purchased the land in 2000.

“It was a total fluke,” Lathrop said.

The sisters, originally from Massachusetts, had fallen in love with the land that Lathrop says sits perfectly in between sweeping views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Twin Peaks. It wasn’t until later when they actually purchased the land they realized there were old buildings from Uptop still on the property.

Since the purchase and restoration of the buildings, Lathrop said everybody who visits the old town seems to feel connected to it, and many have a historical or spiritual connection.

“People would come and tell us things like, ‘Oh, my mother taught in that little school house’ and we just started finding that people had an oral history to share,” Lathrop said. “They would tell us how the bar (shaped like an S) had the best bands that would play there.” Musicians who play the town now say it’s one of the few places they sound the best, according to Lathrop. She believes it’s because all of the buildings were built with wood milled from nearby trees.

A shot of the modern s-shaped bar at the old town of Uptop. Photo courtesy of Sam Lathrop

“We’ve had world-class musicians and they just love to play there,” Lathrop said.

On the day the sisters closed on purchasing the land they went up to Uptop where Lathrop was elected mayor by a majority of two people.

“The first person we met up here was Apache Susie,” Lathrop said. “She told us, ‘Whenever I’m blue, I come here because the spirit of my ancestors are up here and they are so content.’ And we’ve felt that ever since.”

Lathrop said she and her sister have tried to incorporate all of the different cultures that have touched the land, especially the Native American cultures. There are Ute prayer trees — trees that were tied as they grew to represent different things for the Utes — all around the property and the La Veta area.

“We don’t feel we’re particularly sensitive but it seems we’ve been guided by something,” Lathrop said.

One time the sisters were told by a descendent that one tree on the property seemed to be a type of memorial tree. It also happened to be where they had buried a pet that had passed away.

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By the end of 1899 the tracks that carried people up the mountain were moved further south, but not before contributing to history.

Chief Ouray and his wife, Chipeta, traveled over the pass in 1878 on their way to Washington, D.C., where they were to negotiate a treaty. That same year a team of botanists, led by Harvard’s Asa Gray, camped on the pass. They were collecting plants for Charles Darwin.

Moving the tracks didn’t kill Uptop. Soon after, a highway allowed for tourism in Uptop, where the S-shaped bar acted as a watering hole for locals and those passing through.

Eventually, when a new highway was built, the town hit a decline. That was until the Lathrop sisters renovated the town that’s now a National Historic District.

“To bring it back to life is a real joy,” Lathrop said.

Inside the dance hall at Uptop. Photo courtesy of Sam Lathrop

Since, the sisters have opened up the land to different events and festivals. It’s a year-round destination.

But now they are looking to sell.

Lathrop wants to return to France, where she’s lived before, to write another play before becoming a park ranger in Virginia.

“Our goal is to find keepers, meaning not somebody who would have it just as two weeks out of the year summer home, but somebody who will take it forward,” Lathrop said.

She and her sister say they are optimistic they will find perfect buyers — somebody who will find the kind of adventure they did when they bought Uptop.

“We felt so blessed and like we just walked into a whole storyline. Let’s play in this story,” she said.


Summer Events at Uptop

June 24 | All day

Footprints Above the Clouds: Three Cultures, One Pass. The Huerfano County Historical Society is sponsoring this event at Uptop, CO. The almost full-day happening will provide an opportunity to learn about and explore the three cultures that crossed La Veta Pass in or near Uptop, CO: The Utes and their trees, the Spanish Conquistadors led by de Anza, and the Anglos – railroads, travelers, and timber. Space is limited and lunch provided, so you will need to purchase tickets by June 14. For more information contact Lois Adams at [email protected]

June 24 | 9 a.m.

Learn about three cultures; the Utes, the Spanish led by Juan Bautista de Anza, and the Anglos with their trains and lumbering. Investigate a ghost town and the surrounding areas where the Utes gathered. Learn about and practice identifying culturally modified trees. Study the route used by Juan Bautista de Anza as he traveled through our area. Explore the Anglo experience – visit the old railroad station and hear about logging at Uptop. Presented by Huerfano County Historical Society. For information please email [email protected]

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Colorado officials to focus on treatment, enforcement to curb heroin epidemic

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Colorado officials said Tuesday that they hope a two-fold approach will prevent the growth of the state’s heroin epidemic.

Federal and state officials announced plans to focus on prosecuting dealers and use local law enforcement to link people addicted to the drug to treatment options.

According to an updated report also released Tuesday, 228 people died in Colorado in 2016 from heroin overdoses. That’s an increase of 43 percent compared to 2015, when 160 heroin overdose deaths were reported.

Colorado U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer said his office is working with the Drug Enforcement Agency and local prosecutors to bring federal charges against traffickers of heroin, fentanyl and other dangerous drugs. Federal prosecutions can lead to longer sentences and those convicted serve time in far-flung federal prisons rather than state prisons, sending a warning to other dealers, Troyer said.

“This is not a mass incarceration argument,” Troyer said. “This is an exacting, targeting argument on those causing the most harm.”

The second half of the strategy will encourage local law enforcement to help people addicted to the drug get access to treatment through a state hotline.

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said local law enforcement quickly learn to recognize the difference between someone who is dealing and someone who is caught in the grip of addiction.

“We’re doing something that we haven’t done in a long time,” Spurlock said. “And that is go after the pushers but have an equally opposing force on the user and helping those folks get off.”

Under the new plan, officers can contact the hotline directly or encourage people with addiction to use it as a resource.

State health officials said the hotline operators walk callers through the process of finding treatment options.

The effort doesn’t have any new financial backing. Officials with the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Area program said they will direct $4 million in existing funds toward law enforcement task forces aggressively targeting heroin dealers.

“We don’t want to become an East coast, a West Virginia or Ohio,” said Tom Gorman, director of the program. “We want to take a proactive approach and say we want to stop this in Colorado.”

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Denver seeks cannabis tax hike to ease housing crisis

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Denver officials have unveiled a plan that would have marijuana buyers help pay for an expansion of the city’s 10-year, $150 million affordable housing fund.

The Denver Post reports Mayor Michael Hancock and other city officials on Monday unveiled the proposal that, if approved, would increase the city’s 3.5 percent special tax on recreational marijuana sales to 5.5 percent.

The tax hike requires only council approval since Denver voters capped the special local tax at 15 percent when they approved it in 2013.

The city’s shorter-term plan is to subsidize the building or preservation of 3,000 income-restricted apartments and other housing units in the next five years. The Denver Post reports that the proposal would allow the city to up its goal of 3,000 apartments to 6,400.

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Colorado teachers takeover Capitol demanding better school funding

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Hundreds of public school teachers swarmed the Colorado state Capitol on Monday, shuttering one suburban Denver school district to demand better salaries, as lawmakers were set to debate a pension reform measure that would cut retirement benefits and take-home pay.

With the demonstrations, Colorado educators join peers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona who have staged strikes or high-profile protests in recent weeks to draw attention to what teachers unions see as a growing crisis in the profession.

In Colorado the need is especially stark – and apparently at odds with a state economy that ranks among the nation’s best. The average teacher salary – $46,155 in 2016 -ranks 46th among states and Washington, D.C., according to the latest figures from the National Education Association.

By another metric, Colorado’s dead last. The Education Law Center, an advocacy group, said this year that Colorado’s teacher salaries are the worst in the nation “when compared to professionals with similar education levels.”

Teachers rallied in and outside the building Monday, holding signs and chanting slogans including “You left me no choice. I have to use my teacher voice.” They drew honks from passing cars before heading inside, where their cheers and songs resonated throughout the Golden Dome, drawing lawmakers out of their respective chambers to investigate the noise.

Washington, D.C., native Callie Gonyea, who is in her second year teaching at Ellis Elementary School in Denver, said she was surprised to learn that Colorado spending was so far below the national average given the number of people moving to the state and the millions of dollars raised in taxes on legalized marijuana.

“There’s no reason we should be down there,” said the second-grade teacher, who walked outside the Capitol holding a sign that said “We(e’)d like the weed money, man.”

Gonyea said she would like to see more funding to pay for mental health treatment at her school, which has one full-time psychologist. She said her class alone has three students who would benefit from daily check-ins with the therapist.

While recent teacher protests have come in firmly red states, Colorado has a Democratic governor and a Legislature split between Democrats and Republicans, but it has some of the strictest spending limits in the country thanks to a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1992, and all tax hikes require voter approval.

Education advocates have filed statewide ballot measures this year to raise revenue for schools, but past attempts have repeatedly been rejected by voters.

It’s not clear if Colorado’s activism could be a sign of protests spreading to more Democratic-leaning states. There are two blue states are in the bottom half of per pupil spending with Colorado — California at 35 and Oregon at 36.

Monday’s demonstration was organized by the state’s largest teachers union, the Colorado Education Association, which estimated the morning crowd at 400. Englewood Schools Superintendent Wendy Rubin said that over 70 percent of the district’s faculty was expected to be absent so classes were cancelled Monday.

School funding has been at the forefront of the state’s spending fights for years, but organizers said this year’s lobbying day drew additional interest in light of recent demonstrations across the country.

Democratic lawmakers cheered the protests on Monday, stopping to pose for selfies with the teachers. But Republicans questioned the timing of the demonstrations in a year that lawmakers are expected to increase K-12 funding by the largest amount in recent memory.

“As a lifelong educator — I was in education for 40 years — I can see what the concerns are, but quite frankly this year they’re totally unfounded,” said state Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. “I find it kind of ironic that we have the stirring up of the CEA troops and bringing them to the Capitol today when we’re considering a school finance bill this year which has the biggest increase since 2008.”

Colorado currently underfunds its schools by $822 million annually, pinching rural areas in particular, where school districts face teacher shortages. Lawmakers in next year’s budget plan to “buy down” the annual amount owed to schools by $150 million, and boost per-pupil spending by 6 percent. It’s unclear if the additional funding will result in lasting raises in the poorest districts, where superintendents complain of losing teachers to places like Walmart.

A sweeping pension reform effort moving through the Legislature could require districts and teachers alike to contribute more to the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which faces an unfunded debt of at least $32 billion. And a property-tax limiting provision of the state constitution is expected to trigger cuts to local school funding in 2019.

Colorado recently ranked 40th in spending per student according to 2013 figures from the National Center for Education Statistics compiled by the Colorado School Finance Project.

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