Longform

The Rescue of the Mishawaka

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1n 1916, musician Walter S. Thompson was making his living performing, teaching music lessons and running Fort Collins's only music store. He rode his motorcycle up the Poudre Canyon one day and found the place where the Mish now sits. "I came into a most beautiful spot, which seemed to hypnotize me," he wrote in his memoir, "and I found myself longing to stay there."

So he did, obtaining the land tucked between the Poudre River and a steep mountain face through the Homesteading Act of 1862. He left the town behind and spent the next three years building several cabins, a general store and a dance hall. He lived there with his wife and two children -- "like four kids," he wrote -- renting the cabins to "mountain folk" and opening the hall to travelers, neighbors, family and friends in the evenings for square dances and live music.

He and his wife moved to California when their health failed, but the Mish remained, expanding over the years to include an outdoor amphitheater, a restaurant and cabins. It has hosted performances by George Clinton, Béla Fleck, Leon Russell and hundreds more.

But the setting that so enchanted Thompson is 23 miles of winding mountain road from Fort Collins and has space to accommodate only a few cars, making it a logistical nightmare for a large music venue. Between 1990 and 2006, three people died in drunk-driving-related accidents connected to the Mish. But the problems went well beyond transportation. Robin Jones operated the venue and lived in a house there from the early '90s until late in the summer of 2010, when local police and U.S. marshals found him there with 280 pounds of marijuana along with ecstasy, cocaine and meth. He ultimately accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to three years of community corrections.

Jones was forced to give up his management of the Mish as part of the deal. The U.S. Forest Service announced its intention to move ahead with longstanding plans to buy the property and turn it into a boat launch for rafts and kayaks.

Then Dani Grant showed up.

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Mary Willson started contributing to Westword as an intern in the summer of 2014, focusing on the electronic music scene in Colorado.
Contact: Mary Willson