Garfield Search and Rescue, Inc., first incorporated in the early 1970’s, can be linked to a progression of events that brought groups of people together in a common cause to help those in need in the back-country. During the 1960’s, the Sheriff’s Posse was called upon to aid in back-country search and rescue missions. There were limited calls and according to Bill Dodd-Scott (one of the founding members of GSAR,) the posse was used more for parades than the few SAR calls that were needed at that time. However, in the early 1970’s, with more public recreational use, the calls became more frequent and groups formed around cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and hunting joined the posse as volunteers to help in some search missions. Eric Martin related a story of 1972 when he and his family were lost on a cross country ski trip, volunteers and the posse participated in the mission that rescued them. After the mission he and several of the volunteers discussed forming a group that could be readily available to the Sheriff’s Department when needed. This small groups’ efforts birthed the beginning of GSAR, Inc. The incorporation of the group, with associated by-laws, was recorded with the Secretary of State either in 1975 or 1976. For a short period of time (about 1996-99) the corporate name was changed to Garfield County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, Inc. which was re-incorporated in 1999 as Garfield County Search and Rescue, Inc.
With the formation of GSAR in the early 1970’s with 16 members, member ship grew to a high of about 60 listed members in 1978 (a highly reported search for a young child brought a rush of membership) to an average membership of 40 through the following years. The equipment used by these members has gone through many changes over the last forty years. A 1968 Suburban was donated to the early group along with a small camping trailer in 1976. Between the two vehicles, all rescue and search equipment owned by the team was stored. In 1979, several new large items were added. A snow cat and truck were purchased by the county and a small raft was purchased by GSAR. Members of GSAR built a trailer to house the raft and water equipment and all of the equipment was parked in the county road department yard on School Street in Glenwood Springs.
A stable mission base of GSAR during the late 1970’s and 1980’s were water missions, mainly involving vehicle accidents resulting in immersion in the Colorado River. Before the construction of the four-lane highway through Glenwood Canyon, an average of 8 to 10 vehicles, with their occupants, were immersed in the River. GSAR formed a Dive Rescue Team headed by Bill Strouse and approximately six other divers. Non-diver members of GSAR were trained to provide support to the divers during river missions. As the fledgling recreational rafting sport grew in Garfield County, the need for these trained rescue divers also grew. By 1983, 70% of the 44 missions were related to water recoveries. When construction was completed on I-70 through Glenwood Canyon, the need for a Dive Team lessened and by 1994, this component of GSAR was extinguished.
Funding for GSAR came from four sources in the early years. The biggest fund raiser was the Annual Pancake Breakfast which raised about $1,200 each year. Donations brought in about $300 dollars each year and Garfield County budgeted funding to cover costs incurred during SAR missions. At the urging of Ron Richards, a local tow truck operator and volunteer fireman, GSAR created a “company” named Garfield Salvage Company which could charge for recovery of vehicles by the Dive Team. These funds were budgeted to the Dive Team to maintain personal dive equipment with the remainder of the funds returned to the GSAR operating budget (about $500 per year through 1986.) The funding was not sufficient to cover costs of the group during the late 70’s and early 80’s and two people silently supplemented the funding with personal loans that were never repaid, Richard Haff and Rose Zella Haff. The average budget for the group from 1977 through 1991 was approximately $2,500 each year. Members donated both their time and equipment to keep the organization operating. A membership fee of $5.00/year was instituted to cover mailing costs of a newsletter and incidental expenses related to office supplies as these were considered outside the scope of the intent of donated funding.
Early mission types were very similar to what the group responds to today. Although there seemed to be an emphasis on water related rescues. Multiday river and search missions were common with as a much heavier call load during hunting season. Typical multiday missions included:
- In 1978, an early winter storm stranded hunters on the Flattops with a resulting 7 day mission retrieving hunters from the outlying camps.
- A car accident in 1978 caused a 7 day mission with the final body recovery accomplished using divers and crane.
- In 1983 a fisherman on the Flattops was overdue causing a 4 day mission before he was recovered.
- In 1986, a hunter was rolled on by a horse during a snowstorm and the team spent four days on the Flattops before the weather cleared enough for air transport of the victim.
- In 1989, a GSAR member was lost in an avalanche in the Castle Creek Drainage of Pitkin County. GSAR provided support for the month long search. The body of Teeny Jueng was recovered the following June.
In 1990, The County purchased land and buildings on the west side of the old courthouse (now the location of the Glenwood Town Hall and Garfield County Jail.) GSAR Equipment was moved inside of the old hardware warehouse until construction would begin of the new government buildings. This provided a large indoor area for training and meetings were moved to the basement of the courthouse. When Garfield County purchased land north of the Garfield County Airport and constructed a five bay warehouse, GSAR was allowed a home for both meetings and equipment storage in the building. During the time period of the move to the County quarters, Garfield County negotiated with GSAR to increase the SAR county budget covering a small portion of equipment costs, office supplies, and utilities on the new housing. A mail out fund raising effort at the same time raised over $10,000 which was used to purchase modern rescue equipment. Also at this time, Colorado instituted a “SAR” fee on hunting and fishing licenses. This funding now provided an avenue to purchase some larger capital equipment, i.e. snowmobiles, ATVs and jet motors for the river rafts.
As of 2017, GCSAR continues to work closely with Garfield County and the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office. Our membership remains at around 40 members. We train harder than ever to maintain our expertise on our rivers and in the back country. GCSAR has always assisted boaters, hikers, hunters, Snowmobilers and ATVers, but with Garfield Counties growing recreational activities such as climbing, back country skiing, base jumping, wingsuit flying and paragliding we are training harder than ever with technical rescue techniques, back country skiing and avalanche training. Thanks to the help from our dedicated members, Garfield County and private donations, we have very modern equipment and training to provide prompt and professional back country assistance to Garfield Counties citizens and visitors.