Whether you just moved here or you’ve lived here for decades, there’s always something new to learn about Fort Collins. To prove it, we uncovered a handful of interesting and frankly, downright weird, facts about Fort Collins! For example: did you know that Jon Heder from Napoleon Dynamite was born here? Or that there is an underwater city beneath Horsetooth Reservoir?
Get ready to learn a new thing or two about our beloved city. Some facts date back to our town’s origins in the late 1800s, some are modern-day marvels, but all are sure to pique your interest.
Photo Courtesy of the Bohemian Foundation
You may have seen the many colorful pianos dotting the streets of Fort Collins — and wondered what they are for. Pianos About Town is a collaboration between Bohemian Foundation, the Downtown Development Authority and the City of Fort Collins Art in Public Places Program. At 20 different locations in the summer and six locations during the winter, the whimsical pianos are painted by local artists and invite those passing by to make and listen to music together.
If you’ve seen Budweiser ads over the years, it’s likely you’re familiar with the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses. Known for their long white hairs on their lower legs that cover their hooves, Clydesdale horses have long been used for Budweiser promotion and even made appearances at two presidential inaugurations. Anheuser-Busch owns a total of about 250 Clydesdale horses, which are kept at various locations throughout the country, including right here in Fort Collins. The Clydesdales West Coast Team is housed at the company’s brewing facility in town, and other touring teams are based in St. Louis, Missouri and Merrimack, New Hampshire.
Fort Collins is one of two towns that inspired the design of Main Street, U.S.A. at Disney theme parks around the world. Harper Goff, who worked at Disney starting in the 1950s, showed photos of his hometown of Fort Collins to Walt Disney, who incorporated many features of the town into his vision for Main Street, U.S.A. He also drew inspiration from Marceline, Missouri, a small town where Walt Disney had spent four years of his childhood.
In 1998, Fort Collins Utilities was the first in the state and amongst the first in the nation to offer clean, renewable wind power for customers to purchase. And in 2010, they introduced the Green Energy Program, which allowed customers to purchase renewable energy. This addition was ideal for customers willing to pay a little more for their electricity in order to guarantee it comes from the cleanest possible sources.
Actor Jon Heder, known for his role in Napoleon Dynamite, and former Supreme Court Justice and professional football player, Byron White, were both born in Fort Collins. And the city is currently home to billionaire and activist Pat Stryker, actor John Ashton, known for M*A*S*H and Beverly Hills Cops, and professor and author Temple Grandin.
If you lived here in the summer of 1997, you remember the flash flood that wreaked havoc on Fort Collins. Over a 31-hour timeframe, between 10 and 14 inches of rain fell in Northern Colorado, which was the heaviest rainfall on record for an urban area in the state. The Spring Creek area west of College Avenue was one of the hardest-hit places; debris clogged a railroad underpass, which caused additional water backup into Johnson Mobile Home Park, killing five people. The flood brought approximately $140 million in damage to CSU, including the basement and first floor of the library.
Okay, we all already knew this fact: Fort Collins is a craft beer mecca. But did you know the city is responsible for brewing 70 percent of Colorado’s craft beer? And 7 percent of the entire nation’s? To understand the gravity of Fort Collins’ obsessive craft beer culture, check out the extensive list of breweries in Fort Collins.
Looking for a unique gift? If you have a couple thousand lying around, you can always get a Cave Bear Skull from the Ural Mountains in Russia for $4,950 or a Tyrannosaurus Rex half skull for $7,500. But if those are a tad out of budget, peruse their massive collection of rocks, geodes, fossils and minerals.
If you are feeling particularly ambitious (or hungry!), take a swing at the Fat Shack Challenge at Fat Shack in Fort Collins. Participants have just 30 minutes to eat three 8-inch Fat Shack sandwiches and a huge plate of fries, which must all be swallowed when the time is up. The rules are intense, including immediate disqualification for throwing away or throwing up your food. But the victorious will receive a free meal, free t-shirt, and their picture on the Wall of Fame!
Speaking of beer, have you ever heard of Stout, Colorado? If not, that’s probably because the city was submerged in water decades ago. The town was originally established in the 1860s as a camp for workers at nearby stone quarries and functioned as a popular place for residents of Fort Collins (which had a 70-year prohibition) to drink. Stout was abandoned in 1949 in order to make way for the Horsetooth Reservoir as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Today, a sign at the southern tip of the reservoir reads “Stout, Colo. Pop. 47 ½.”
To say Fort Collins is “bike friendly” is a massive understatement. It is in fact one of only five cities in the country designated a Platinum Level Bike-Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. The city is equipped with more than 280 miles of trails, including both paved and unpaved walking and biking trails, and the newly completed Pitkin Bikeway, which improved the city’s bikeability and overall rider safety. Not to mention, our bike share system, Pace, provides 250 bikes and 42 dedicated bike racks throughout the city. Users can access these bikes with a push of a button on the Pace app!
Fort Collins has a rich agricultural history. Common crops included wheat, oats, barley and sugar beets. The sugar beets in particular were fed to somewhere between 250,000 and 400,000 sheep and lambs on an annual basis, which gave the town the nickname of the “Lamb Feeding Capital of the World.”
Photo Courtesy of the Poudre Landmarks Foundation
The Avery House is considered a National Historic Landmark and visitors can wander through its rooms and hallways in order to step back in time to view this restored Old Town home from the late 1800s. But some visitors have witnessed some strange activity while inside these historic walls. Many have reported an unhappy child’s spirit in the middle upstairs bedroom and others have mentioned interactions with other members of the Avery family during their visit. To learn more about the history of the Avery House and other real haunted places in Fort Collins, click here, if you dare…
A previous encampment called Camp Collins was founded as a military outpost of the U.S. Army in 1862. A flood destroyed the camp in June 1864 and a site several miles down the river was deemed to be a better location for a fort. The second location was utilized until 1866 and was the nucleus around which present-day Fort Collins was built. The town was named after Colonel William O. Collins, a Union Army officer who served in the cavalry during the Civil War.
You may have wondered why there is not a large “R” on the hill above what once was Hughes Stadium, the former home of the CSU Rams. That’s because in 1923, students at what was then called Colorado Agricultural College painted a large “A” on the hillside to stand for the “Aggies,” the nickname for the school at the time. To this day, CSU students make the trek up the hill each fall to refresh the “A” with white paint to keep this nearly 100-year-old tradition alive.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying the impressive goose population in Fort Collins. In fact, the city plays temporary home to more than 60,000 Canadian geese each winter during their migration — and we largely have Northern Colorado’s “Father Goose,” Gurney Crawford, to thank. Crawford worked for the Colorado Game, Fish and Parks Department in Fort Collins between 1938 and 1972, and in 1957, he helped implement the release of 40 geese to develop a breeding flock. Today, around 200,000 Canadian geese migrate through Colorado during the winter, and between 20,000 and 30,000 call the state their home all year long.
Help us make this list even weirder by sharing a unique fact in the comments below!