Locals discuss the idea of changing Gore Range’s name as state board begins processing backlog
End of year would be soonest board will decide on proposed Nuchu Range name change
A representative of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board said on Friday, March 26, that it’ll be the end of this year — at the earliest — when the board will consider and decide on the proposal to change the name of one of the county’s most iconic mountain expanses: the Gore Range.
“That was one of the latest ones to be filed, so that is very early in the process,” said Tim Mauck, the state’s deputy director of the Department of Natural Resources. “Normally these processes, without backlog, take six to nine months.”
The backlog Mauck referred to is the 16 pending proposals to change the names of various geographic locations, such as Mount Evans, within state lines. The board expects to work with the federal Board on Geographic Names to identify what proposals will be first by mid-to-late April, with the Gore Range proposal toward the end of that list.
The state board — comprised of 15 people ranging from elected officials, state employees, historians and Native American groups — has this backlog after a naming advisory board did not exist for the state for several years. Gov. Jared Polis reformed the board last spring. Mauck said the board will decide on proposals based on criteria, weighing such variables as “offensive or derogatory names,” the “long-term association” with the feature and “dominant local usage or historical connection and significance,” among others.
The reformation of the board comes several years after local elected officials and wilderness advocates introduced the idea of changing the name in 2017. In recent months, that multiyear push to rename the Gore Range the Nuchu Range has continued. Former county commissioner and Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance board member Karn Stiegelmeier said Friday the name Nuchu is the most simple spelling of the term the Ute people used to refer to themselves. Effectively, Stiegelmeier said, the name change would result in the Nuchu Range translating to mean the “Ute’s Range.”
Stiegelmeier has been one of the leading advocates to change the name of the rugged mountain range that begins at Buffalo Mountain near Silverthorne, and is at the heart of the vast Eagles Nest Wilderness that continues to the county’s northwest and also stretches into Eagle and Grand counties.
Stiegelmeier said she supports the name change because Sir St. George Gore, the range’s current namesake, never stepped foot in the range. Rather, historical records say the Irish hunter in the 1850s may have crossed Gore Pass well north of the range on one of his hunting expeditions in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas — where his party were estimated to have killed thousands of wildlife. According to the wilderness alliance, the name might be from a 1868 newspaper article about a climb of Long’s Peak, where “Gore’s Range” could be seen in the distance.
Stiegelmeier said Gore’s actions a century-and-a-half ago “are the antithesis of the stewardship values the county has promoted for a long time.” When you combine that, she said, with the fact that historical artifacts suggest Utes seasonally roamed through and inhabited such locations as Vail Pass, the Blue River north of Silverthorne and likely the area under the current Dillon Reservoir — where the Snake, Tenmile and Blue rivers converged and fishing was plentiful — that’s all the more reason to Stiegelmeier to change the mountain range name.
“It seems to me really straightforward as to why it needs to be changed,” Stiegelmeier said.
Stiegelmeier said the name change — which was supported by two Summit County commissioner resolutions before hitting a hurdle for support with the Grand County commissioners — would only be for the mountain range, and not for other locations and trails such as the Gore Range Trail and Gore Creek. Stiegelmeier also acknowledged the name change could have an effect on local businesses and groups who use the Gore Range name.
One of those businesses is Gore Range Outfitters, a Silverthorne guided hunting and horseback riding service owned and operated by Glenn Morse. Morse said Friday he doesn’t have a strong opinion either way on the name change for the range but did say, either way, he won’t change his business’ name. He wondered what’s the point if the name of the popular Gore Range Trail wouldn’t be changed as well. He he thinks the county has many more pressing issues to focus on amid the pandemic.
“I’ve been here 30 years, hiking in the Gore Range for 30 years, it would be weird for me to hear it called something else,” Morse said. “There’s this movement to change all of history. If that’s what they want to do, I’m fine with it, but I’m not going to change my name. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a real local who’s been around here 30 years-plus who would want to change the name. I see some people are upset with what people in the past did 100-something years ago, but it’s hard to change history.”
One Gore Range group has already changed its name. The popular Nuchu Ski Mountaineering group changed its name last September, though some of the group’s 916 members still sometimes post using the Gore name.
Evolving and changing modern perspective of history is precisely what Stiegelmeier and Bob Berwyn desire with their vocal advocacy for the name change. Berwyn said he spent many years recreating in the range not thinking twice about the Gore name — something Stiegelmeier and Morse also said was the case for themselves.
Despite that personal history in the mountains, Berwyn, a 19-year resident of the county who no longer lives in the area, said the idea is part of a “broader movement of awareness about our history.” Namely, Berwyn said the change is an example of decolonization to help modern people “think about how we can interpret history differently.” Berwyn added he’d like to see the state have a citizen’s assembly or council to tackle the topic more broadly.
“At this point we recognize social justice issues and changing some names should be part of that,” Berwyn said.
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