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Sopris residents prepare for 50-year anniversary since first farewell reunion

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Seen here, the Purgatoire river travels through the town of Sopris, located where Trinidad Lake now rests, as did a rail trolley carrying passengers from along Highway 12 into Trinidad. Paul Fantin took this photo in 1952.

This year, 2020, marks 50 years since the community of Sopris began gathering in memorial of the town that once stood where Trinidad Lake now rests. Individuals, from those who once lived there to their family and friends, meet for a reunion each year at the Trinidad Lake State Park to reminisce the days when the small mining and farming community was on the map. Genevieve Johannsen, who serves as a sort of historian and public outreach for Sopris, said this year would be a special year for the group.

“For years we’ve been saying we need to get these stories,” said Johannsen. “There are only a few people left from my father’s class of 1944. So my son-in-law, daughter, and I jumped in and said we’ll do the interviews. I didn’t really know at the time what I was doing; I just knew we needed to keep these stories because the history is so important. So we’re working on a documentary. We’ve been able to get some video footage of some of the people who lived there talking about life in Sopris. That project is still an ongoing project but we’ll be doing a preview event on that Friday night of July 3.”

Johannsen explained that because the town was located adjacent to the Purgatory river, spring rains and melting snow occasionally brought flooding to the area and in 1937 local authorities began to look at ways to intervene and prevent the property damage and loss of commerce that these cyclical floods imposed on the mining camps and the city of Trinidad.

In 1968 the Army Corps of Engineers came to town to assess homes and came up with a plan to buy the land so that a dam could be built and a reservoir created to prevent seasonal flooding and provide water for local farmers and ranchers.

Johannsen went on to explain that since Sopris was not incorporated, the government was not required to relocate the residents; they were simply offered an agency-determined price for their home and property.

“In 1968 the properties were purchased and the summer of 1970 we all came back for a farewell reunion,” said Johannsen. “They finally put in the water in 1980. So this is the anniversary of 50 years since we had that first reunion. I was 14 at the time and we have such good memories. We love each other and this is part of who we are.”

The anniversary event will happen on Friday and Saturday, July 3 and 4. Johannsen said there would be much to take part in during that time.

“We’re working with the State Park,” said Johannsen, “and there will be Friday night entertainment then the Saturday traditional golf tournament in the morning and mass at 11 a.m. with Father Jim who was originally assigned to Sopris in 1968 when he was newly ordained. He comes back every year from Durango. There will be a family picnic and fun and games on Saturday as well at the state park.”

As the years go by, Johannsen explained that she is sad to see many of the individuals who once lived in Sopris have been lost. But she would still like to see the family of those who once lived there to come back and hear the stories of their heritage, even if they only visited family there or may have never had the opportunity to visit at all.

“We want all of the decendents there,” Johannsen said. “We want everyone to come home and hear stories from their grandparents that they would have never heard otherwise.”

For more information about the reunion or Sopris, Johannsen said to visit their webpage, sopriscoloradoreborn.com or email sopris.co.reunion2020@gmail.com.

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