Rolling down Coal Creek Canyon Road at a moderate clip, I blow right past the turn-off. Next time I’m an extra standard deviation from the steps of the state capitol building, I’ll follow the directions sent to me instead of Google Maps. On the other side of the tracks is Lincoln Hills Fly Fishing Club.
Tucked away in Gilpin County, an hour and change from Denver proper, Lincoln Hills FFC is what is commonly referred to as “private water.” That term usually carries negative connotations – developers buying up land around prime fishing habitat and closing it off to the public. But what if the area carried historical significance, had been mined to the point of being nearly fishless, and then left to rot? Under such circumstances, should it still be a place anglers love to hate? That’s what I went to find out (as well as catch a few trout).
Lincoln Hills has a storied past. It began as a private club, an exclusive retreat for African-Americans, and for a time it was the only place of its kind in the western US. Started in 1922, it served that community by allowing African-Americans to build summer getaways at a time when the Ku Klux Klan held power in Colorado, and African-Americans weren’t allowed to book hotel rooms or use public parks. By the time the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came about, popular entertainers such as Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie were no longer visiting Lincoln Hills. Soon thereafter, centerpiece Wink’s Lodge developer Obrey Wendell Hamlet died, and Lincoln Hills was seemingly lost in the history books.
Industry, which had already stripped the valley bare prior to its development as a resort, returned, and in the ensuing years Lincoln Hills was again a hotbed for placer and hydraulic mining. Thankfully, such techniques did not involve the use of chemicals that would otherwise poison the water, but the effects of the search for precious metals nevertheless took its toll. By the time mining ceased in the late-70’s, the valley was one big gravel pit – devoid of foliage, insect life, and our fine finned friends.