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Midland Railroad Observation Car

​​​​Spinney Mountain State Park lies in the southeastern corner of "South Park," a vast 900-square-mile upland valley in mountainous central Colorado.


The cultural history of South Park probably began about 12,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence recovered from surveys in portions of the park indicate that the Folsom, Plano, Archaic and Woodland prehistoric cultures are all represented.Ute indian encampment

As early as 1,000 A.D. bands of Ute Indians, whose territory included all the mountainous area in Colorado west of the Front Range, occupied South Park. They continued the hunting and gathering lifestyle of earlier cultures. With the exception of an occasional raid by neighboring tribes from the plains - first Comanche and Kiowa and later the Cheyenne and Arapaho - the Utes retained sole possession of the area for several hundred years.

Recent History (1500-1900 A.D.)

Fur trappersThe intrusion of Western Europeans began in the 1600's with the arrival of French trappers, whose presence continued through the Spanish expeditions of the 1700's. With the discovery of gold in 1859, the mining era began and mining towns rapidly displaced the hunting camps of the Utes.  Of these early mining settlements located within what is now South Park, only Fairplay has survived.

Turn of the 20th Century

The influx of European descendants led to the establishment of many trails and wagon roads. These were followed shortly thereafter by railroads. In addition to mining, ranching and lumber industries, the railroads also helped foster the tourist trade in South Park. The Colorado Midland Railroad, which operated between 1887 and 1918, transported visitors to what is now the state park so that they could enjoy the wildflowers along the South Platte River. These weekly, and later daily, Wildflower Excursions followed a route from Colorado Springs, through Eleven Mile Canyon to a site known as Spinney. Spinney, named for well known, neighborhood rancher, Ben Spinney, was the site of extensive Midland facilities. These included a frame station, section house, bunkhouse, a large water tank, coal bins, a passing track and a wye. As the wildflower trains were turned around on the Spinney wye, passengers collected armloads of wild iris, penstemon, indian paintbrush and other wildflowers. Then, after posing for the photographer, they re-boarded for the trip back to Colorado Springs.

The railroad was dismantled in 1921 and a "replacement" highway was built, disrupting travel through the area only briefly. In 1926, however, the Board of Water Commissioners of the City and County of Denver initiated survey work for the Eleven Mile Canyon dam and reservoir. Shortly thereafter the main highway was rerouted over Wilkerson Pass, returning the primary focus of the Spinney Mountain area back to ranching.

Recent Events

Spinney damIn May 1973, the City of Aurora began investigating alternatives that would provide for sufficient water storage of long-term reserves. With the determination, later that same year, that the City's water system would best be served by a reservoir on the South Platte River, plans proceded towards the construction of a reservoir at the base of Spinney Mountain. Upon completion of the Corps of Engineer's Environmental Impact Statement in 1980, construction was begun on a 95-foot high, zoned earth-filled dam. This work was completed, and Aurora began ​storing water in Spinney Mountain Reservoir on October 15, 1981. Formal dedication of the project took place on July 18, 1982, and the reservoir was opened to public recreation the followi​ng spring.

Public use of the area was supervised by the City of Aurora until May 16, 1987, at which time a contract for recreation management services was signed with the Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. A formal lease agreement between the City of Aurora and the Division of Parks, signed May 9, 1988, officially added Spinney Mountain Reservoir to the state park system.