The 9,000-foot-high, mountain-rimmed valley that makes up most of Park County is the cradle of the South Platte River. Its early name was Bayou Salado, for its salt deposits. French trappers and traders called it parc (park, or pen for wildlife). Yankees renamed it South Park and made it one of Colorado's original 1861 counties. Gold strikes in 1860 brought hundreds of settlers; some gold has been mined here ever since, along with other minerals. The Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad (DSP&P) arrived in the 1880s, bringing flush times and some 5,000 residents. By 1890 decline had begun as the South Park mines played out and the county's elevation, averaging two miles high, discouraged agriculture. Of seventy-one small railroad, mining, and ranching communities, less than a dozen survive as post office towns.
Since the 1880s, Park County has escaped a major boom; it remains a nearly empty empire with only two traffic lights. It has no major mines, ski areas, or industries, only scattered cattle, dude, and hay ranches, summer cabins, and fishing resorts. Half of this huge county is within national forests. Travelers reaching the summits of Hoosier, Kenosha, and Ute passes are rewarded with breathtaking views of vast, relatively flat South Park, stretching some fifty miles north to south and twenty-five miles east to west. Only recently, Denver's growth has crossed the eastern edge of this county, whose population jumped from 2,185 in 1970 to 7,174 in 1990.
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