by Nancy Christofferson
WALSENBURG- Perhaps it is the approach of the 4th of July holiday that sparks an interest in summer sun and fun in the hearts of Huerfanos, and the end of June apparently is the time of action to ensure facilities for the enjoyment of the season.
Back in 1932, county golfers were enjoying a course on Capitol Hill in Walsenburg, officially opened on June 27, 1930. The nine-hole course had a two-room clubhouse. Memberships ranged from $3 for individuals to $10 per family. The new links replaced an older course laid out in what was at the time the pasture of John Ugolini on Capitol Hill in 1923.
The Capitol Hill course was enlarged and improved, but suffered terribly from local vandals. In June of 1932 the American Legion Post received approval and assistance from the county commissioners to open a recreation park at Martin Lake to include a pavilion and golf course. The county graded a new road for access.
The project was delayed, and the links on Capitol Hill were still in use when in 1939 a Works Progress Administration project was approved to build the long-awaited course at Martin Lake. At least three sites were considered for the construction.
Hooligans burned down the Capitol Hill club house in 1935, and in 1938 took all the cups, fairway stakes and everything else moveable. While it was not the end of the Capitol Hill club, it was certainly the beginning of the end. An association had been formed to operate the course, but the Jaycees promised to take over management and maintenance as a civic project.
The 1939 WPA project languished, though specifications had been sent to government officials in 1940, and the “golf course committee of the Huerfano County association for national defense” encouraged construction, as did the chamber of commerce. The project, along with some riprapping to be done on the Cucharas in Walsenburg city limits, was to have employed 600 WPA relief workers.
In 1943 the Pritchard family of Walsenburg offered some property to the city. The unit contained land around Martin Lake and some water rights, but later the offer was withdrawn. The city obtained a lease on land around the lake for a park soon after and construction finally began in June 1942. The Lions Club donated their energy and funds to providing picnic tables and benches. Nearly 5,000 people attended the grand opening of the project in July of ’42.
The resulting recreation area, named Huajatolla Park, had a grand opening Sunday, July 4, 1943. The “big free” dedication included races and contests for all ages, speakers, a miniature train and boat rides. Martin Lake was the center of attraction, with separate areas designated for boating, fishing and swimming. Several thousand attended the ceremony.
In August a two-story building was announced, to contain dressing rooms, concession area and a bandstand. That fall the local National Defense Association had some rustic stone shelter houses built. A playground was added.
Meanwhile golfers were still on the Capitol Hill links, but the World War caused a hiatus in leisure time sports, and the course fell into disrepair with more coyotes than golfers. It was abandoned in 1945 and sold (much of it was later used as a gravel pit). Duffers relied on courses in Pueblo and Trinidad to satisfy their desire to chase little white balls.
Milton Utt had donated 40 acres to the City of Walsenburg to add to Huajatolla Park, which allowed for expansion, but it was not until 1949 that City Council purchased the water rights and land around Martin and Horseshoe Lakes from the Coler Ditch and Reservoir for $50,000. About the same time, Martin Lake was condemned for swimming by the state health department!
Even the Sportsmen’s Club denounced the lake as “an alkaline mud hole.” Members proposed draining the lake for cleaning, and swimming was definitely not an option.
So now the city owned a tract of “recreational” land and the structures on it that were good only for fishing, boating and gatherings on land. That very lake, used since the 1880s by swimmers and fishermen, hikers and boaters, became a liability for the city. Insurance became hard to find, and afford, after several drownings. Huajatolla Park was phased out.
The State of Colorado purchased the land in 1962, and, the first of its kind, Lathrop State Park, was dedicated in June. No doubt the city fathers breathed sighs of relief.
In 1965 a group organized the Walsenburg Golf Association. Directors were elected and individuals and organizations donated time and money to build a real, modern and well designed course. One of its first triumphs was the installation of automatic sprinkling, an innovation seldom seen in Colorado up to that time.
Part of the new golf course covered the site of the old Walsen coal camp, so when the brick school there was torn down, materials were salvaged for the construction of the course clubhouse.
The new course, then called Lathrop Park Golf Course, took two years to build. In January 1967, when the clubhouse was still under construction, membership was open. For an individual, the rate was $45 a year, and for a family, $75. The first member signing up, and paying up, was George Dick.
The course was scheduled to open March 1, 1967 with the new golf pro, William Ladendorf. It actually opened in April as the Walsenburg Golf Course. The clubhouse was not dedicated until July 4, 1968. The Ladendorfs, Mr. and Mrs., managed it and served sandwiches until 1971, and others followed until Orlando Herrera was hired in 1974, and he stayed.
The Walsenburg Golf Association continues to operate the course, which has seen many changes since its opening 44 years ago, not least of which is the ongoing popularity and expansion of its neighbor, Lathrop State Park.