KERSEY — The sun rose in dramatic fashion, a red ball that appeared to hover above the water of the South Platte River as it flowed toward Nebraska. I sat on a log and soaked in the birdsong and river noises, the same gurgling that soothed my kids as they slept in, giving me this bonus moment of quiet that camping parents appreciate so well.
My daughters were in an onion-shaped Lotus Belle glamping tent not far from the river’s edge. Its curved wall slowly turned pink as the sun’s rays reached the canvas. We were among the first guests at Colorado’s newest campground, tucked into a 235-acre working ranch and part of Platte River Fort Event Center. This picturesque setting in Kersey is more well-known for weddings and events than campouts. But now there are tents by the river and a s’mores bar and firepit in the main fort. Forty more tent and RV sites are planned.
On that chilly spring morning in northeast Colorado, sitting by the river at sunrise, I felt fortunate. Maybe it was the novelty of the Lotus Belle tent. Maybe it was knowing we were among the first people to experience the serenity of the space. There are five other tents along the river. They’re set on wood platforms and spaced about 50 feet apart, providing plenty of privacy. At the moment, there’s a shared port-a-pottie, making these semi-primitive sites.
The tents are spacious and rounded like a yurt, with beds and basic furniture that make them quite comfortable and cozy as a temporary home. They’re set in a flat, lush floodplain, separated from the main lodge by a 1-minute drive past the Longhorn cattle herd. Platte River Fort Event Center is a replica of the iconic Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Monument, itself a reconstructed 1840s fur trading post outside La Junta.
Campers have access to the main lodge, a coffee and doughnut shop, and Hank’s Bar & Grill, which serves barbecue and smoked meats in a barn setting that flows onto a patio with stunning views of the Continental Divide. Hank’s Bar & Grill will have occasional live music, bar specials, barn dances, lawn games, and hayrides.
Later that morning, when the sun was a little higher and my girls were exploring the fort, I sat down with Dori DeJong, one of the owners. Her parents ran dairy cows here during her childhood.
“I grew up riding my horse right there and playing in the river,” she said. Now, campers can play on the river in tubes and kayaks or on stand up paddleboards. They also can visit the goats and alpacas on the small farm, and perhaps see ranch activities like roundups or calving.
DeJong said part of the reason for opening the campground was to share the land and the lifestyle with people from different parts of Colorado and beyond.
“I want people in the city to have the opportunity to come to a space like this,” she said. “I want them to have the experiences I had growing up here. I have a passion about the urban-rural divide and I have a foot in both worlds.”
DeJong lives in Stapleton, but grew up on the farm and often makes the hour-long commute linking city and country life.
“We should all be experiencing each other’s worlds, to gain perspective.”
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