The Bunk House Lodge can be found just off of Route 9 on the way to Breckenridge from Frisco, nestled between a thin stretch of evergreens and the Blue River. Although technically in Breckenridge, the lodge is far outside of the bustling town center, which allows guests the chance to experience a deeper solitude of the mountains. A stay at the Bunk House Lodge also provides a glimpse into two seemingly diverse aspects of local history—the mining and resort history upon which this mountain town was founded and the movement for LGBTQ rights and safe spaces within the state of Colorado.
The coming together of these two histories began when Rudolph (Ruddy) Gardner, John Morgan, and several other friends rented a small cabin in Breckenridge as a way to occasionally escape the hustle and bustle of Denver. Their choice of accommodations was a rustic location that was built at the convergence of two railroads in the late 1800s. Even at the turn of the century, this cabin was remote, built in an area used as a place of respite from larger Breckenridge. With nothing but a kitchen and a living room, the cabin provided everything needed while remaining as basic as possible.
Here, the simplicity of mountain living could be truly felt.
By 1964, the allure of the mountain town lifestyle won Gardner and Morgan over, and they decided to purchase the cabin that they were renting with their friends. From the onset, the goals embedded within the purchase of this new home were greater than just getting out of the city. Gardner had a vision of creating a place for members of the LGBTQ community that truly belonged to them.
“Part of [Gardner’s] resolution was to create a safe and secure location for gay men specifically to come and feel a part of,” explained Mitch Ringquist, the current owner of the Bunk House Lodge, explained. Accomplishing this goal meant expanding the space, and construction began almost immediately on transforming the cabin into a lodge.
No part of the original structure was removed, only added to. Today, the old cabin exists within the larger building. The styles of the old and new builds are distinct, yet have been flawlessly incorporated into each. In one room, what was the outside wall has been left intact, while the old windows were transformed into mantels. Elsewhere, what was the front door became a bathroom door, and wood repurposed from Breckenridge’s mining days was used to create a wall. Admittedly, the ceilings in the oldest part of the Bunk House Lodge are a bit low, but this works to increase the coziness.
The construction of the lodge ended in the late 60s. The end results expanded the first floor to the north, east, and south, and added a second and third floor. Throughout construction, Gardner and Morgan were also working on growing their community. They began by creating a work exchange. Gay men could come live at the Bunk House for free if they were willing to assist with the daily goings-on. In the beginning, these men, nicknamed “Bunkettes,” helped with the renovations and later began to work on maintaining the lodge for guests.
In 1972, the Bunk House began to officially take guests. Although locating the official records to back this assertion has proven difficult, those who work in the lodge believe that this date makes it the oldest LGBTQ organization within the state of Colorado.
“We predate the formation of the Gay and Lesbian Center in Denver. They met here,” Ringquist proudly explained.
The clear intention for the Bunk House to be a safe place for the queer community quickly led to it becoming a place of meeting and congregation. It didn’t take long for the space to become known as a place to connect with the small, but strong, LGBTQ community in Breckenridge and Summit County.
During the ensuing decades, the lodge weathered the same adversity faced by the queer community around the country. Many Bunkettes were lost to the AIDS epidemic, and the lodge has faced many of the same problems of transience that have afflicted the town of Breckenridge.
Still, it has persisted, unapologetically continuing to offer the safe community that it was founded upon.
“We’ve weathered a lot of adversity, a lot of storms,” Ringquist said. However, through the hardship, Ringquist sees the persistence of the spirit with which the Bunk House was founded. “I believe we’ve really tried to stay true to who we are as this entity, and that is open arms and open hearts.”
These days, the Bunk House Lodge finds itself in a familiar place—on the brink of great change. Ringquist has been an integral part of creating this change. He moved into the Bunk House as a Bunkette in 1999 and, despite an original plan to head back to a life in San Diego after nine months, never moved out. The draw that he felt to this place and the community it held was so strong that four years passed before Ringquist found himself on the West Coast again. Eventually, he moved back to the Bunk House for good.
Ringquist lives at the Bunk House with his partner, Allen Robertson, and Robertson’s son. The family greet guests with a warm, “Welcome home.” They also prepare and share home-cooked meals with any lodge patrons who are hungry and have created a homey ambiance with plenty of lounge space and a general air of compassion and well-being.
Today, the Bunk House Lodge can be a home-away-from-home to everyone. Up until Ringquist took over in 2012, guests where all specifically gay men. This type of haven from the outside world was critical for a population that was continually marginalized. However, the modern era demanded more, prompting the Bunk House Lodge to become somewhere where dialogue and understanding between diverse individuals can be facilitated.
“When I took it over, I wanted to open my arms even wider and start to acknowledge that normalization has to start somewhere. Why not with me, and why not now?”
With this resolve, Ringquist reclassified the Bunk House Lodge as gay-owned and operated, serving both the LGBTQ and heterosexual communities.
“In opening our arms to welcome more, we are also opening our hearts to encourage more coming together and communication,” he said. “If someone has a fear of a segment of society, if that person then sits down and has an open dialogue with a rational person who then turns out to be gay, well then, aren’t we changing a mind, changing a perception, and encouraging growth?”
However, the Bunk house isn’t without its share of modern challenges. Although there was a strengthening of resources in the 90s and into the 00s, by the mid part of that decade, a lack of leadership had begun to weaken the LGBTQ organizations of Summit County.
These days, the once-strong PFLAG chapter in Dillon has almost completely dissolved; the robust LGBTQ film series that was part of the Breckenridge Festival of Film came to an end, and no local LGBTQ community groups or organizations were contacted when Breckenridge decided to start a Gap Pride event. However, Ringquist now seems to be preparing to become that leader who was missing a decade ago.
Since the death of previous owner Adam Rudziewicz three years ago, he has begun to move forward with these plans more rapidly, thinking outside the box in terms of growing both the business and the community around the Bunk House.
The five-year plan includes broadening the lodge’s ability to house guests, possibly by building smaller “bunk houses” throughout the property. The 10-year plan goes far beyond this, as Rinquist dreams of incorporating an LGBTQ community center into the lodge. These plans are far off thoughts, though, ideas that seek to rectify a lack in the community but that Ringquist does not wish to rush.
“I try to be mindful of not only what I bring but what I give,” he said. “I don’t hold back necessarily, but I like to take my time. I’m dipping my toe and seeing where the needs are.”
Ringquist’s immediate goals for the lodge aim to make it a more welcoming place. With private rooms available for as low as $100 per night, lofts for $75, and bunk beds in a communal dormitory for $50, the prices help to increase access to Breckenridge. The lodge is also pet- and 420-friendly; has easy access to Summit County’s free Summit Stage bus service; and is walking distance to cross-country skiing, a plethora of hiking trails, and the Blue River. These amenities show that inclusiveness is built into all aspects of the Bunk House Lodge.
When Gardner founded the lodge back in the 60s, he did so with the explicit intention of providing safety and community to gay men. Ringquist now seeks to continue this resolve through the opening of this safe place to everyone. Under his stewardship, the Bunk House Lodge is unquestionably changing.
Photos By Hannah Gartner