Trailhead opening in Centennial connects more than trails

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Arapahoe County celebrated the opening of the 17 Mile House Farm Park, the newest gem in its open space crown, with a formal dedication, ribbon-cutting and fall festival on Oct. 20.

The 70-acre park, located at 8181 South Parker Road, adjacent to Cherry Creek and the boundary of Arapahoe and Douglas counties, features a restored farmhouse, silo and two replica windmills, as well as a new trailhead to connect users to the Cherry Creek Regional Trail system.

Named for the 120-year-old home that sits on the property, the park is a County Designated Heritage Area and was once part of the historic Cherokee Trail stagecoach route to Denver.

“We are in a place where pioneers once walked,” said Arapahoe County District 2 Commissioner Nancy Sharpe, “And that makes this a very important place in Colorado history.”

Former tenants of the 17 Mile House, Jack Race and Ruth Race-Dolan, attended the ceremony and entertained visitors with childhood stories as they sat on the porch of the home in which they once lived.

“I think what I miss most about the place is the trees,” said Race-Dolan, who was married in the living room of the small wood-framed house in 1950. “Jack and I are just appalled sometimes at what we see … this used to be all just pastures and cattle. Now it's just houses and houses and houses.”

Purchased for approximately $12,000 in the 1930s, Race-Dolan said the property, as she remembers, came with 640 acres of land and she and her siblings attended a one-room schoolhouse located a few miles down the road on Highway 83.

While the park gets its name from the house, Race-Dolan explained the house got its name from its distance from the intersection of Colfax and Broadway in Denver.

When the 1859-1860 gold rush brought settlers to Colorado, six way stations emerged along Cherry Creek to accommodate the growing number of travelers.

Known as “mile houses,” they were located every two to three miles along the Cherokee and Smoky Hill trails, all named based on distance to the city. Upon arrival, travelers could eat, find lodging and rest their animals before proceeding to Denver.

Out of the original six mile houses, only 17 Mile House and 4 Mile House exist in their entirety today.

In 2001, Arapahoe County, Douglas County, Town of Parker, Great Outdoors Colorado, Gates Family Foundation, Colorado State Historical Fund, Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, City of Aurora and Trust for Public Land partnered to preserve the 17 Mile House as a historic site for others to enjoy.

Funding for the project came in part from the county's voter-approved Open Space sales and use tax.