By Jennifer Pund
Memorial Day is gone and warmer temperatures are ahead, making this the perfect time to explore Base Camp at Golden Gate Canyon. Longtime Gilpin County residents and new owners, Tom and Cary Ihme are ready to serve the camping and local communities with upgraded sites, stocked convenience and liquor stores, new laundry facilities and more. Celebrating one year of ownership, the Ihme’s have rebuilt, remodeled and revamped the campsites and facilities, but they aren’t done yet.
The couple spent the last 12 months working hard to spruce up Base Camp, moving the laundry and liquor store inside a newly remodeled building and working on other major projects. This was all done while working full time jobs. Tom is a Patrol Captain with the Gilpin County Sheriff’s Department and Cary is a paralegal for University of Colorado. “My wife and I both have our normal jobs that we’ve had forever, so we are working full time and running the campground and liquor store,” Tom said.
Upgrades include creating fire rings at each of the eight tent sites and a few of the 13 cabin sites, new picnic tables for some of the 19 RV spaces, relocating the laundry and liquor store, new siding on the main building, a large septic system project and filling in the swimming pool. “The swimming pool had been abandoned and run down for the last few years. It was an eyesore. When you live around it, you get used to it. Now, when you pull up you go ‘oh, wow, it’s gone.’ Same thing with the store, we look back at pictures and, wow, how things have changed.” Tom said.
Although renovating the building was a large project, the campground and store remained open for business throughout construction. “We closed [on the property] on May 1  and I literally walked out of closing, across the hallway to the bank, got out the money for the cash drawer and drove up at 1 p.m. in the afternoon, unlocked the door, put the open sign up and started tearing down walls.” Tom explained. “We have had a lot of people to help us through the way.”
Looking to fulfill a dream from childhood, Tom approached the Dory Hills Campground owners many times, but they were never willing to sell. Later, when they were ready to let go, Tom and Cary took a step back. “After two years, we thought about if we really wanted to take on this much work for something that was supposed to be enjoyable, but every time I drove by, I just saw potential and it was sad to see the place get so run down, so we jumped back in,” Tom said. “We thought, if we are going to do this, we are going to do it right.”
Changes to the liquor store were also needed right away. Tom explained most customers didn’t know the tiny shed next to the convenience store was a liquor store. “There has been a liquor store here for 25 years, it had about 10 items in there and noting else really appealing about it, and a lot of people didn’t know it. So, we moved it into the main building,” Tom explained. “As busy as I plan on being, I couldn’t have the employees running back and forth between buildings, so we moved it into the main store.” Cary renamed the store Pickle Liquor in reference to it being adjacent to county ball fields.
Because the campground’s convenience store, liquor store and laundry facilities are open to the local community, campers get a great deal on grocery and liquor store items. “We like to cater to the locals because obviously, the campground season isn’t going to pay the bills year round,” Tom said. “We keep items reasonably priced, which hurts us in the summer because all the campers expect a higher price, but we don’t mark stuff up for the campers. The convenience store is really here for the locals, and the campground is just a bonus. Plus, the laundry room is also open to the public everyday 7 a.m.-9 p.m., and later on Fridays and Saturdays in the summer.”
The campground was built in 1969, and Ihme said until now, not many upgrades were ever made. He has a list of repairs and improvements he is working on including a return of gas sales. “We are making improvements and making it as comfortable as it can be. We’ve done some upgrades to our bathrooms, but we have plans to remodel the bathroom and shower facilities,” Tom said. “Also on my master list is to get Lotto, and then get the gas working. That’s a huge expense and this is a family run business, but we want to get gas in here for the locals so they have more than one place to go and they can get service with a smile.”
Base Camp Campground is located at 661 Hwy. 46 north of Black Hawk. Visit basecampco.com or call 303-582-9979 for more information, special event dates and reservations.
Originally published in the June 2015 issue of the MMAC Monthly