ESTES PARK, Colo. – The mountain town of Estes Park, Colorado is known for its scenery and tourists – it’s the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and is home to the iconic Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King to write “The Shining” – as well as a few local characters, like Lee and Molly Kemper.
The retired restaurateurs are animal lovers and tend to a llama, a few alpacas and another animal one might not expect – an elk named Annie.
For decades, Lee and Annie have been inseparable.
“I’ve had her since she was five days old,” Lee said. “I think she’s around 28 and a half.”
The Kempers took Annie in to rehabilitate her after her mother abandoned her. She’s stuck around and has since become a part of their family.
“I love her to death. She’s like one of my kids,” Lee said.
Over the years, Annie even gave birth to a calf and her daughter had babies of her own. Those calves also chose to stick around instead of living on their own in the wild.
With all the love and care Lee has given Annie over the years (not to mention plenty of Mike and Ikes, her favorite candy), one thing he hasn’t been able to protect her from is time. At nearly 29 years old, she’s lived much longer than most elk do in the wild.
Annie now suffers from arthritis and struggles to get around. It’s not clear how much more time she’ll have with her adopted family.
“She would run around here, but not anymore,” Molly said. “It’s sad.”
As the autumn of Annie’s life draws near, Lee has been quietly making plans to keep her memory alive. He’d like to see her immortalized with a bronze statue in town, much like another elk, Samson.
“He could be her father,” Lee said. “Because he used to hang around here all the time.”
“I’d like to have a bronze made of her down in town,” Lee said. “And I’d like to see it done in my lifetime.”
His neighbors created a GoFundMe to help raise money for this.
For more information on Annie and the Kempers, log on to kenosllamaranch.com.