Georgetown Loop prepares for last ride
The last historic train ride on the 4.5-mile narrow gauge Georgetown Loop Railroad amid the mountains of Clear Creek County might be Oct. 3.
Contract negotiations involving the state, which owns the 949-acre park, and several families that jointly own and operate the historic train, derailed this week.
The Greksas of Dillon, the Ashbys of Georgetown and the Ropchans of Golden have owned and operated the Georgetown Loop Railroad Inc. train the past 30 years. The state owns the narrow gauge tracks and the park.
The Georgetown Loop Railroad families’ contract expires this spring. Mark Greksa has been at the table several times with the Colorado Historical Society the past nine months.
“We showed up last week and they issued us an ultimatum, to take the new contract or leave,” Greksa said. “We asked if the deal was negotiable and the Colorado Historical Society board said no.”
The unresolved issues between the parties include insurance, maintenance, parking and financing. One agreement that the business and the state nonprofit organization did make was to extend the daily historic railroad rides for one more season from May 29 through Oct. 3. Train tickets cost $16.50 for adults and $11.50 for children.
The local economies of Georgetown and nearby Silver Plume at the other end of the ride rely on the 115,000 to 120,000 tourists that visit the destination every year. Hotels, restaurants, shops and gas stations in Georgetown and Silver Plume thrive on the crowds summer through fall.
“This is huge for us. The Georgetown Loop is a destination family activity,” said Peg Stokstad, president of the Clear Creek Economic Development Corporation. “The local businesses here are hoping that between now and October, they can work their way through this impasse.”
Stokstad said she will brainstorm possible solutions with local businesses, Georgetown and Silver Plume officials, Clear Creek County Commissioners, the Colorado Historical Society and the Georgetown Loop Railroad Inc.
By comparison, the Cumbres-Toltec steam-engine railroad that takes railroad aficionados along the Colorado-New Mexico border doesn’t place as much of the financial operational burden on the operator, Stokstad said.
This year’s May 29 opening will mark the 30th and final year Georgetown Loop Railroad Inc. has operated the tourist train, Greksa said.
“This has been a fantastic railroad to operate and we’ve truly enjoyed having the opportunity to preserve railroad history for the state of Colorado. It’s been a labor of love,” Greksa said. “We’re looking forward to our last season and we hope the public will join us and our unique trains in this final year.”
Both the state and the Georgetown Loop owners will shop around for new business partners this year. Stokstad said she doesn’t think either will find a better match.
The Georgetown Loop families are looking into other destinations to take their trains, Greksa said. They already operate the Royal Gorge Route, which has seen an increase in business since they recently added lunch and dinner rides up to the southern Colorado gorge.
The families have been the only operator since the railroad was brought back to life three decades ago and helped with that restoration and rebuilding process.
The state has spent $900,000 the past five years on park improvements and wildfire mitigation, said Georgianna Contiguglia, president and chief executive officer for the Colorado Historical Society.
The history of the Georgetown Railroad dates back to 1877 when silver was discovered in the mountains west of Denver.
Today’s railroad takes visitors over the reconstructed Devil’s Gate High Bridge, completed 20 years ago, which stands 95 feet above Clear Creek.