Coloradans who visited Echo Lake Lodge south of Idaho Springs for homemade pie or bison stew will have to say goodbye to the restaurant and gift shop as they know it. The lodge is set to shutter in the fall, as Denver officials plan its transformation over the next few years.
Bill Carle’s family has overseen the lodge at 13264 Chicago Creek Road near Mount Evans since 1965 when the city and county of Denver — the owner — leased it to their company, H.W. Stewart Inc., to serve as its concessionaire.
Now, officials want to reimagine the future of the lodge, leaving Carle with one final season in the building.
“This is what’s so hard — you put your heart and soul into these restaurants,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’m almost speechless.”
Carle’s sister Barbara Day ran Echo Lake Lodge for several decades, but she died of cancer last October. Months after she passed away, Carle was told by city and county officials in December that they “want to go in a different direction” with the lodge.
One year before the end of their company’s five-year contract, which had a two-year extension option, he learned that May through September 2022 — a typical season — would be his last run at Echo Lake Lodge.
“I don’t understand,” Carle said. “We haven’t done anything bad.”
Shannon Dennison, Denver Mountain Parks director, confirmed the concession contract isn’t being renewed, and acknowledged that “there’s been a lot of concern that we’re taking away from the little guy here to give the big guys in the corporate world this contract, but that’s really not the case.”
The lodge isn’t closing permanently, but “the building needs a pretty significant amount of work,” as it was first constructed in 1926, she said. Her team plans to conduct a structural evaluation and bring in preservation specialists. They’re also working to repair the septic and well system.
“This is really making sure that we’re being good stewards,” Dennison said, adding that the city is “thinking ahead to the next hundred years.”
Denver Mountain Parks hasn’t decided what the building will turn into yet. Options include a residential alpine science center for Denver students, a ranger desk or a special events venue, Dennison said, adding that the idea of on-site food and beverage service hasn’t been ruled out.
“Our goal is really to ensure that Echo Lake Lodge is programmed to better serve the Denver community, rather than just the tourist community,” she said. “We can be doing more up there.”
Although there isn’t a definitive timeline yet, Dennison hopes to reopen for the centennial anniversary of the lodge in 2026. “It’s really one of the jewels of the Denver Mountain Parks system,” she said.
Still, Carle counters, “Echo Lake Lodge is what it needs to be.”
His family business will continue to oversee other stores, so he’ll turn his attention there. Patrons’ reactions to the closure are “very, very touching,” Carle added.
Reg Cox, a 66-year-old lodge customer and Littleton resident, called the shuttering “heartbreaking news.”
He described the lodge as “iconic and pure Colorado,” with a “nostalgic” souvenir shop that’s one of the last of its kind.
“For decades, families have enjoyed retreating there in the summer for homemade cinnamon rolls, bison chili for lunch or a warm-up coffee after getting caught in the rain, riding your bike down the mountain in a summer shower,” Cox wrote in an email.
Denice Mellberg, the lodge’s manager, said she’s “very sad” over the decision to close. She started working at Echo Lake Lodge close to four decades ago.
After the final season, she’ll either retire, run another store for Carle or “go gold mining with my husband.”
“We take care of a lot of people up here,” including regulars, vacationers and visiting Denverites, Mellberg said. “I don’t know what will become of this.”
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