Vail council split on renaming Gore Range

Council won’t support formal effort to rename the mountains that straddle Eagle, Summit counties

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily
The sun illuminates wildflowers and the Gore Range in August.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

EAGLE — You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks Lord St. George Gore was anything but a profligate slaughterer of wildlife. But does that mean the mountains sort of accidentally named for him should be renamed?

A lot of people would like to see that happen. The Summit County Commissioners passed a resolution in 2020 urging renaming the Gore Range to something that honors Ute Indians, who occupied the area for thousands of years before they were driven to reservations in the 19th century.

That request has gone to a revived Colorado Geographic Naming Advisory Board, part of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. That board could make a request to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for a formal change, yet that probably won’t happen until 2022.

Other entities have already requested a name change from the federal board, including The Wilderness Society and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

But the Grand County board of commissioners has rejected a request to support the renaming effort.

What’s Nuchu?

Those who support the name change prefer Nuchu, the Ute word to refer to themselves.

Tim Mauck, deputy director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and former Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier, explained the request to the Vail Town Council on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

The current name is “not in our view an appropriate name,” Stiegelmeier told council members.

Mauck told council members the state board plays an advisory role to the federal board. The federal board also relies on public comment, local governments and affected Indian tribes.

Vail Town Council member Kim Langmaid is known as a wholehearted supporter of the change.

Langmaid said the Utes have been “generous” to the area over the past decades, including doing snow dances in Vail’s first season.

Langmaid said changing the mountain range name to Nuchu honors the tribe. “It’s time for us to think about how important this is,” she said.

Council member Brian Stockmar said he’s in favor of changing the name of the mountain range. But, he said, Vail has all kinds of names with “Gore,” including the creek that runs through the heart of the town.

“What I’m concerned about is how what we do today impacts all the other naming … it’s not as simple as renaming a mountain range.”

Langmaid countered that the only issue right now is renaming the mountains. The town could keep other things named for Gore without many complications, she said.

A ‘tricky’ question

Council member Jen Mason is the director of the Colorado Snowsports Museum in Vail Village. She called the request tricky.

Mason said she doesn’t see the need for the change.

“In 20 or 30 years, we might regret (the change),” she said.

Council member Travis Coggin said renaming the mountains with the English word “Ute” might be a better solution, since most people won’t know the significance of “Nuchu.”

Coggin acknowledged that Gore was a “bad guy,” but added that Gore’s name could be used for education on what’s been learned in the decades since the Irish nobleman’s American slaughter in the 1850s.

But, Langmaid said, in her view keeping the name is a tacit endorsement.

Mayor Dave Chapin said council members had received only one email on the topic, and it was opposed to the change.

Chapin said without unanimous support from the council, the board can’t support the change.

According to a background document prepared for the Summit County commissioners:

· Lord St. George Gore probably never ventured anywhere near the mountain range that bears his name.

· During a three-year hunting expedition in the 1850s, Gore slaughtered thousands of animals for sport, leaving the carcasses to rot in the sun. Indian tribes relied on those animals for food.

At the end of his expedition, Gore burned 30 wagons of supplies rather than sell them to his hunting party at what he saw as too low a price.

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