Located north of Shaffers Crossing about forty-five miles southwest of Denver, Staunton Ranch was a 1,720-acre ranch owned by the doctors Archibald and Rachael Staunton. The Stauntons used the ranch as a second home and also operated a sawmill and hosted summer camps on the property. In 1986 the Stauntons’ daughter, Frances, donated the ranch to the state of Colorado for use as a state park, which opened to the public in 2013.
Staunton Ranch started in 1918, when Archibald and Rachael Staunton bought an eighty-acre parcel near Elk Falls for a mountain house. Originally from West Virginia, the Stauntons had received medical degrees and married in the 1890s before coming to Colorado in the early 1900s, after Archibald got pneumonia. They established practices in Denver and moved with their young daughter, Frances, into a house on Downing Street. In the 1910s, while visiting the Glen Elk resort southwest of Denver, Rachael and Frances saw Elk Falls and decided to buy property in the area.
After their initial eighty-acre purchase in 1918, the Stauntons expanded their property over the next twelve years until they had 1,720 acres. Covered with pines, aspen groves, open meadows, and granite cliffs, the land was located around Black Mountain Creek at an elevation between about 8,000 and 9,000 feet. The Stauntons spent weekends and summers at the ranch, living in a rustic cabin they built in 1918.
To satisfy the requirements of the Homestead Act, which the Stauntons used to claim some of their land, they grew oats and potatoes and raised horses and cattle. Starting in the 1920s, they also leased some of their land to loggers, who built a small sawmill and a cable system for moving logs. Logging continued until 1942, when metal from the sawmill was donated to wartime scrap metal drives. The abandoned sawmill later collapsed in the 1960s or 1970s, but a two-story bunkhouse still stands near the sawmill ruins.
In addition to logging and agriculture, the Stauntons used their ranch to host a variety of camps in the middle of the twentieth century. Evidence suggests that the physician couple may have operated a camp for tuberculosis patients at the ranch in the 1920s, but most camp activity came later and was recreational in nature. About a quarter mile southeast of their own cabin, the Stauntons built several new cabins and a shower house in a cluster near an older cabin that dated to before 1918. The foundations of additional cabins have been found on other parts of the property. The family used these cabins, most of which were built by the early 1930s, to operate a commercial camp under the name Lazy V Ranch. From about 1936 to 1954, the ranch hosted groups such as the Girl Scouts, the Mount Marion Camp for Catholic Girls, and the Lazy V Ranch for Boys.
Frances Staunton inherited the ranch after her mother and father died in 1946 and 1958, respectively. Friends and other guests continued to use the ranch’s cabins and bunkhouse until Frances Staunton’s death in 1989.
In 1961, three years after her father’s death, Frances Staunton wrote a will in which she pledged to donate the family’s ranch to the state of Colorado for use as a state park that would be kept largely in its natural state. The donation was announced in 1984 and finalized in 1986.
With Staunton’s donation, state officials initially hoped to open Staunton State Park to the public in 1991. It ultimately took more than twenty-five years to open the park, however, in part because Colorado Parks and Wildlife needed to acquire additional parcels of land to create an access point that did not involve driving through a neighborhood. In 1999, a Great Outdoors Colorado Legacy Grant allowed the original Staunton donation to be expanded by about 2,000 acres through the purchase of neighboring Davis Ranch and Elk Falls Ranch. In 2006 the prospective park was expanded again with the acquisition of a crucial eighty-acre parcel that once belonged to Mary Chase, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Harvey.
Years of planning and development followed, but in May 2013 Staunton State Park opened as the first new state park near the Denver metropolitan area since 1978. Today the park includes more than 3,800 acres of land and twenty miles of trails. It is one of the few places where marmots can be found below treeline. The park has plans to construct new trails and a visitor center, and the nonprofit Friends of Staunton State Park is adding interpretive signs about the park’s cabins, sawmill, and other buildings.