Longtime Summit County locals compare mud season to how it was 40 years ago
DILLON — It’s no secret that mud season isn’t like it used to be.
Some longtime locals remember it fondly while others remember the hardships of mud season. With the COVID-19 shutdown, locals who have been here for decades say this year’s mud season bears similarities to those of the 1980s.
Larry Crispell has lived in Summit County since 1972. Back then, he said the economic driver of the community was the ski areas and that summertime was a small segment of the economic engine. Crispell said things started to close down in April. By May, most everyone was gone.
“Back in the day, the town would shut down,” Crispell said. “I could go down to the main intersection of Ski Hill (Road) and Main (Street) and look south down Main Street, and there would not be a single car, human, dog or any sign of life.”
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Crispell said mud season has “disappeared” over the past few years.
But even though things are different, they’re better in some ways, he said. Despite the pandemic, he still sees local families out and about, hiking, walking, fishing and generally living their lives. And he said people are more committed to a year-round existence in Summit County.
In the past, Crispell said he would often find himself working on construction projects or taking off for Utah and the Grand Canyon during mud season. He recalled a summer day in 1980 when he was at the rugby field. Crispell watched three cars driving down Colorado Highway 9 and wondered what was going on that three cars in a row were coming into town. He laughed at how unusual such a sight was at the time.
“The biggest change, for better or worse, is the success of the marketing of the town,” Crispell said. “Our incredible community has so much to offer that we’ve been discovered.”
Crispell said he doesn’t miss “the good old days” and that the town has turned into a better place to raise families, for kids to engage in recreational activities and for kids to come back to the community and start their own lives in a more diversified economy. Overall, he said it has become more of a “real town.”
This year, things feel similar to mud seasons past as the area is quiet and traffic is down, but he said there are many more families with kids, which he views as a positive.
“We have an incredible community, and there’s so many opportunities,” Crispell said. “And in a way, the community is much, much stronger, and the community will get through this COVID-19 thing.”
Leigh Girvin grew up in Summit County and has lived in the region for over 48 years. She said one of the biggest similarities between mud seasons of the past and this year is the lack of traffic.
“In terms of mud season and the coronavirus, certainly the similarity with just fewer people and traffic and just a sense of quiet, stillness now,” Girvin said. “It kind of reminds me of 20, 30, 40 years ago.”
She noted that the season used to be muddier and more true to its name. This year, the weather has been warmer, and there are more paved roads than there used to be.
Another similarity is that lodging facilities are currently shut down. Nowadays, lodging facilities encourage visitors to come in May. She said that over the past few years, there have been more people coming during mud season, using the bike paths and visiting restaurants — until this year.
“The comparisons are very similar to the ’80s, so really we’re talking 35 years ago, in terms of just the quietness in town: businesses aren’t open, people didn’t come in May,” Girvin said. “… Two weeks ago reminded me very much of the mid-’80s, and that’s a long time ago in terms of the history of the town.”
Girvin said it’s nostalgic for her as she looks back on the old mud seasons fondly. She typically worked during mud season running various nonprofits around the community, but she recalled that others would take a break and head to the desert, go on river trips or head to Florida while others would find odd jobs, often in construction.
“I think mud season is still really special,” Girvin said. “One of the things about living in a resort community is we get our breaks, and that’s what makes May special. … I think we all really cherish this time.”
John Warner, a Summit County resident since 1980, also compared this year’s mud season to those in decades past.
“I used to make a joke that you could walk across Main Street with your eyes closed, and you wouldn’t get hit by a car,” Warner said. “And that’s my barometer. I think you can do that now.”
Warner also noted that there seemed to be more mud back in the 1980s. He said the town looks similar to how it did then in terms of closures, with maybe one or two restaurants that stayed open. Warner said there was great spring skiing back then, which still exists today in the backcountry.
Warner recalled that there wasn’t much of a summer tourism market in the 1980s and that one didn’t start to take shape until the late 1990s. Like Crispell, Warner also said there is a much larger local population now with a lot more families and children living in established local neighborhoods.
Businesses that are open today remind Warner of what typically would be open back then, which was mainly grocery stores, the doctor’s office and the hospital.
While Warner is fairly neutral on whether he prefers the “old days” of Summit County or the present, he pointed out that the nonprofits that exist today weren’t around in decades past to offer services to locals.
“The other thing that I would say is amazing about this community is the proliferation of nonprofit organizations that have turned into essential services like (the Family & Intercultural Resource Center), the Community Care Clinic, Building Hope,” Warner said. “Those things did not exist in the ’80s or ’90s, and they have done great work for the community. So in many ways, there’s a better safety net for people now than there was back in the 1980s.”
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