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Iconic Colorado mountain lodge closes after 57 years when lease isn't renewed

For more than five decades, one family has run Echo Lake Lodge and Restaurant. Their run comes to an end after their lease wasn't renewed.

IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. — Life is full of twists and turns, whether it's driving the winding road up 14,000 feet of Mount Evans or taking in the beauty of leaf-peeping season on the mountain. Many often make the trek for the staple that sits at the peak, Echo Lake Lodge and Restaurant.

The lodge is historic – 96 years old. The logs are coated in Scott’s Liquid Gold. The windows and doors are ancient but working. There’s something special in the atmosphere.

"Look at this building, look at this restaurant," said part owner Bill Carle. "I mean there's not many like it anywhere."

Sunday marked the last day for the iconic mountain lodge, which has been open for 57 years, after Denver Mountain Parks decided not to renew the lease. This was just months after Carle's sister, Barbara Day, who served as manager, died of cancer.

Carle still welcomes people to come clear the gift shop of the thousands of items left behind that will more than likely go into storage if they aren’t sold.

Credit: KUSA

Carle didn't really know what title to give himself, even though his family owned the popular spot since he was a little boy.

“I'm not really sure I have a title, but I’m kind of the oldest member of my family business now,” he said.

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For decades, he helped make this place special for those who came from all over the world.

"The knickknacks are special," he said. "I mean, if you visit any of the national parks, you can have a visitors center and then you can have a gift shop. I'll tell you where the people are, they’re in the gift shop.”

A tiny gift shop with every nook and cranny filled with thousands of memories to be taken home.

"Thousands. Thousands," he said. "And it changes. The staples, the T-shirts, the coffee mugs, the keychains."

These were the items Carle’s family provided for generations on the mountain. His grandmother bought the lodge in 1956 from the Broadmoor Hotel. At the time, she was also running the Crest House.

"Ninety-nine years of my family being on Pikes Peak, making those doughnuts,” Carle said.

The doughnuts still ring a bell to this day, along with the pies at Echo Lake. The Crest House burned in 1979, marking the end of an era for the family. The site of Crest House still sits empty to this day.

“It just sits as a wind-blown viewing platform now,” Carle said.

Forty-two years later, Echo Lake Lodge and Restaurant was the latest family business to close.

"Caught us completely off-guard, we had already ordered the merchandise for the season, about $300,000 worth. You order early and heavily because of the supply-chain issues,” Carle said.

Credit: KUSA

"We don't know what the future is [for the Echo Lake Lodge site]," Carle said. "They haven't told us. They haven't told anybody."

Although he doesn’t know what the future holds, he still welcomes visitors, even though the dining room is closed.

"Come on up, bring your lunch," he said. "We will have hot chocolate, we will have doughnuts.”

The end of this era made Carle reflect on what his family gave to Colorado tourism.

“We made a lot of people happy along the way," he said. "We've had a great life along the way. And that's kept our family together. It keeps the family together when you have a family business."

It also brought together his family for special moments in life.

"Sending my wife up here for a piece of pie when she was pregnant, 'cause that's what she wanted," he said. "This was the last restaurant my grandmother ate at, and this is the one she wanted to go to."

The stories left him smiling from ear to ear while holding back tears. For Carle, this place is home.

Credit: KUSA
Bill and Denise greet customers at check out.

After 57 years, his May routine will change. He’ll no longer stand on the snow drifts to take down the shutters, light propane stoves or get the store set up and ready for the season.

As life continues to throw this family twists and turns, he said he wants to leave those that kept his family in business at 14,000 feet with a final message.

"I would just like people to know I can’t find enough staff to open my dining room," he said. "And for all of those people who brought their grandmothers and their families up to look at the leaves and always had lunch at Echo Lake or always had a piece of pie at Echo Lake, I’m so sorry and I’m heartbroken. That we can’t do that this year for you, it hurts.”

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