The history of Summit County’s marinas
Dillon and Frisco marinas open for the summer season this weekend
Memorial Day weekend marks the opening of marinas in Summit County. With boat reservations still available this weekend for Dillon Marina and Frisco Bay Marina’s opening day on Friday, May 27, the history of recreation on both properties will continue to evolve as residents and visitors enjoy the holiday weekend.
Today, the Dillon and Frisco marinas are owned and operated by their respective towns, but their histories include colorful elements, such as ski resort ownership and citizen efforts that helped to establish the amenities.
Longtime Frisco resident Robert Philippe recalls boating on Dillon Reservoir when he was 16 years old, launching off a ramp at a campground off Colorado Highway 9 between Frisco and Breckenridge. He noted that some people also launched in the area of the present-day Frisco Bay Marina, but there was no formal setup.
“That’s how we all used to launch our boats before anything,” Philippe said.
The Dillon Marina came first — shortly after the Dillon Reservoir was completed in 1963. It was privately owned until the town of Dillon bought it in 1990, according to Dillon’s Finance Director Carri McDonnell, who has worked for the town since 1993. After purchasing the asset, the town handed over operations to Keystone Resort, which had a short stint running the marina from 1990 to 1995. McDonnell said that the town concessioned operations at the time because there wasn’t adequate town staff to handle the extra load.
In 1995, the town started running the marina in-house.
“In 1995, we felt like it was necessary to bring it back in because we had the staffing, we wanted to run it ourselves, and we wanted to have more control over it than a concessionaire,” McDonnell said.
McDonnell said there have been a lot of changes to the marina since then, including efforts to increase its footprint, build additions, increase the number of docks and install a wave attenuator to help protect the docks and boats. She added that the addition of Pug Ryan’s Tiki Bar and a concessionaire for paddleboards and kayaks have been great inclusions to the marina, as well.
McDonnell noted that there’s more work and improvements to come to the Dillon Marina.
McDonnell said that boat rentals at the Dillon Marina have gone up significantly in the last few years.
“I think the marina (has) always been widely appreciated (and) accepted in the community. We’ve always had a waiting list for slip holders. I think it’s becoming more and more of a gathering place,” McDonnell said.
Many residents around Summit County kept their boats at the Dillon Marina, but by the late 1980s, Philippe and former Frisco resident Miles F. Porter IV decided there ought to be a marina in Frisco, too.
“We went in and talked to the mayor … and said, ‘Let’s do a marina,’” Philippe said. “And they go, ‘Oh no, we can’t do that.’ So Miles and I go, ‘Maybe we can.’”
After a gathering at town hall, the two felt there was public support for a marina in Frisco. They made an appointment with Bill Miller, then-manager of the Denver Water Board, to ask about the idea. Philippe recalled Miller responding, “Of course you can have a marina.”
Porter said this was the summer of 1988. By October, Philippe and Porter had set up the start of the marina, placing mooring balls in the area where the Tenmile Creek flows from Frisco into Dillon Reservoir.
“We went over and got all of our boats, and we hooked them up and had them floating right there … where everybody could see,” Philippe said. “Within the next couple of days people are just calling town hall (and saying), ‘Well, we want our boat over here.’
“So then the town got the bug, and they bought us a bunch of these funky fiberglass dock kits. The Frisco Bay Yacht Club, which was about five of us, and the Frisco Public Works Department all got together and we built the docks. And then the rest is history.”
Porter said the Frisco Bay Marina has been a great amenity for the town that offers numerous summertime activities.
“Where else could you have a marina in a resort mountain town that ended at your Main Street?” Porter said.
Marina Guest Services Manager Jenn Shimp explained the reason for the location of the Frisco Bay Marina at its current address of 267 Marina Road.
“The Marina was initially located here because the old highway that goes into the lake offered an easy way to let craft launch into the water that was easier than just off of a shoreline,” Shimp wrote in an email. “It took very little to blade a gravel parking lot and bring down a trailer for an office. That was the entirety of the marina at the very start.”
According to a timeline provided by Shimp, the town contracted with concessionaire Osprey Adventures to operate the marina until 2004. Between 1988 and 2001, the marina saw a series of upgrades, including the installation of a 100-foot dock, a boat launch, a marina service building, new docks and slips, a fuel dock and more.
In 2002, the town issued bonds for improvements to the marina and town hall. About $1.5 million was used for improvements to the marina, including reformatting the parking area, a new boat ramp, a dock for paddle sports and the relocation of the bike path, according to Shimp’s timeline.
The town began operating the marina in 2005. Since then, the Island Grill restaurant was built, the playground and lighthouse were installed, dock island was created as a result of drought, and the Big Dig project took place, which laid the groundwork for future improvements.
Shimp noted in her timeline that 2020 was the Frisco Bay Marina’s busiest year on record.
This story was first published on Aug. 25, 2021 in the Summit Daily News.
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