Float between the past and present on Lake Dillon Boat Tours

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to the Daily
Special to the DailyExplore Lake Dillon Boat Tours offers an affordable opportunity to not only capture picturesque views, but also learn about Summit County history and present-day activities.

One of the magical things about mountains is how they transform, depending upon your vantage point: Seeing them by car is completely different than hiking through their interiors, and standing on a peak is a breathtaking experience in and of itself.

But what most people miss when visiting Summit County is viewing the mountains from the water. You’d think it’d be the same as taking them in by car, but it’s surprising how different it feels to float on a pontoon boat in the middle of a lake, with mountains encircling the landscape.

Explore Lake Dillon Boat Tours offers an affordable opportunity to not only capture picturesque views, but also learn about Summit County history and present-day activities. The tour began with four test rides three years ago, and then started full swing in 2010. Since then, it’s been a weekly summer sell-out adventure.

Linda Kelly with the Summit Historical Society leads the tours, with the help of other Historical Society volunteers, in partnership with the Dillon Marina. Pontoon boats accommodate 14 guests plus the docent and the boat captain.

Tours start at the Dillon Marina and slowly motor into the first finger of Dillon Reservoir, toward Keystone, as guides introduce people to the Ten Mile Range, dubbed by photographer John Fielder as “the second most beautiful mountain range in the world.”

Kelly focuses on both the past and the present, weaving in stories about personalities like Lord Gore, who brought his four-poster bed and tea set to Summit County and set about to kill 5,000 animals and fish simply for sport; or Lula, an old time Dillon school teacher who won a case against the town for firing her after she was seen out with men.

As the boat floats past Summerwood homes, Kelly points out the modern cliff dwellings – the highest priced real estate with the most advantageous views, she said.

Even though she throws in basic information about activities in Dillon, Keystone and surrounding areas, she says locals enjoy the tour just as much of visitors because of the history and trivia. (For instance, as the boat passes the hill over Roberts Tunnel, which took from 1942 to 1964 to construct, she tells people it was the longest tunnel of its kind in the world when it was finished – an engineering feat measuring 23.3 miles.)

Near Roberts Tunnel and other points along the tour, visitors might see Bald Eagle or Osprey nesting in the trees; bring a zoom lens for photo opportunities.

As the tour goes along, Kelly reaches into the past – and into her bag to bring the past alive. She pulls out a rustic mining pan, as well as other tools and rocks, as she teaches guests about mining.

As the boat passes over the three town sites of Old Dillon, now 70 to 200 feet under water, Kelly tells the story of the displaced residents and relocated structures. She explains how old buildings were removed or burnt in 1961 and how residents lived in trailers in Silverthorne without roads or running water.

As she tells stories, it is as if guests are floating between two worlds: the old and the new. As you bob along, Kelly’s narrative takes you back to the rough-and-tumble days when “mucking around” meant miners risking their lives. And as refreshing winds usher in – and those winds are what makes the reservoir one of the top 10 racing lakes according to Sail magazine – you begin to think of the modern world, which, for better or worse, is lined with orange boundary buoys and majestic mountains that have stood the test of time.

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