WALSENBURG, Colo. (KDVR) – Harvey Gap, Roxborough and Stagecoach are just a few of the parks spread all across Colorado, but of the 42 official state parks, do you know which was crowned first?

According to the Colorado Encyclopedia, officials in the state felt that there was a growing need to create recreation opportunities for Coloradans back in 1937, so they formed the first ever state parks and recreation board. However, it took 20 years before the board’s efforts had an impact.

In 1957, then Governor Stephen McNichols appointed Harold Lathrop to the position of state park director, and he oversaw a budget of $39,192.

Shortly into his tenure, in 1959, he helped establish the Cherry Creek park, but according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife magazine, Colorado Outdoors, this was only the state’s first recreation area, as opposed to the first official state park.

To find the true original of all of Colorado’s state parks, you need to travel the Spanish Peaks of southern Colorado, where you’ll find the park that bears the same name as the director who oversaw its designation – Lathrop State Park.

A brief history of Lathrop State Park

According to CPW, many Native Americans headed into southern Colorado from New Mexico to escape Spanish conquistador encroachment during the latter end of the 17th Century. This conflict continued through 1778, when an area sitting 20 miles north of what is today known as Lathrop State Park, was the setting of a major battle between Comanche tribes and the Spanish military. Seven battles ensued and the chief of the Comanche was killed at the base of the Greenhorn Mountain, which now carries his namesake.

Less than 200 years after this conflict concluded, in 1962, the 1,594 acres just south of where these battles ensued were officially designated Colorado’s first official state park, and the board named it Lathrop State Park. Its naming being a tribute to the person who had been shepherding the board through its early years, Harold Lathrop.

What the oldest state park in Colorado has to offer

According to the Spanish Peaks Chamber of Commerce, the park that has three campgrounds with a total of 103 individual campsites sits just three miles west of Walsenburg along Highway 160.

It offers residents and out-of-state visitors the opportunity to partake in a wide range of recreational activities, including:

  • Archery
  • Birdwatching
  • Boating
  • Camping
  • Fishing
  • Geocaching
  • Hiking
  • Horseback riding
  • Hunting
  • Swimming
  • A 9-hole golf course

Spanish Peaks Chamber of Commerce also manages the 12 murals at the park’s visitor center, created back in 1972 by Disney Animator Paul Busch in an effort to encourage visitors to reflect on the history of the Mesa Verde Cliff dwellers as well as the impact of the coal strikes from the 1920s.

In addition to seeing the distinct-looking dikes of the Spanish Peaks, which are vertical granite formations that were created from molten rock thousands of feet beneath the surface, summertime visitors will likely arrive when sunflowers, Mexican hats and Indian blankets, all of which are wildflowers, will be in full bloom.

Uncover Colorado has said that the two major lakes at Lathrop, Martin Lake and Horseshoe Lake, are the highlights of the park, offering visitors the chance to boat, fish or swim.

According to the Spanish Peaks Chamber of Commerce, bird species that frequent the park include cormorants, roadrunners, pelicans, pinyon and scrub jays, meadowlarks, great blue herons, and western grebes.

The first of the Centennial State’s parks celebrated its bicentennial back on June 9, 2012. Here’s to another 50 years of being the oldest member of the park family that makes Colorado such an appealing getaway destination.