The Fort, the River, Preservation of Resources
(Delta) Chris Miller has got it going on in her capacity as Executive Director of the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado. From her office at Fort Uncompahgre she maintains historic conservation projects, operates an authentic frontier trading post and launches strategies for the development of the rivers that meet on this spot.
“We have been busy preserving many important historic sites in the region,” said Miller. “Along with seven others participating counties we have saved Escalante Canyon homesteads, facilitated architectural digs, created the Alpine Tunnel Historic District, saved the Enos T. Hotchkiss barn in Hotchkiss, repaired the Hanging Flume at Unaweep (quite an architectural marvel in itself) and restored Fort Uncompahgre.”
The success and determination herein is evident when one strolls around the grounds at Fort Uncompahgre. Completely restored, the early 19th Century fort was built by Antoine Robidoux, a fur trader of some fame. Here the history enthusiast will find a hide room, cocina, blacksmith shop, trade room, trapper’s quarters and lots of artifacts peppered about the site.
“The Fort was established a short distance from the confluence of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers, at the spot where the Old Spanish Trail intersected a long-established, well trod Ute trail to the water from higher ground,” explained Miller. “This was the first commercial enterprise to grace the Western Slope.”
The Fort stood at this 19th Century trade route until September of 1844 when most of the inhabitants were killed in a Ute attack, which oddly enough, coincided with the beginning of the end of the beaver pelt hat craze in Europe.
The Old Spanish Trail Association says that “between 1829 and 1848 fur and livestock traders, soldiers, merchants, Indians, slave traders and horse thieves followed one of three routes identified today as the Old Spanish Trail . The north branch of the trail proceeded from Santa Fe into Colorado’s San Luis Valley, followed the Saguache River Valley, crossed Cochetopa Pass and forded the river near Grand Junction.”
What Delta County offers visitors is real. Fruit, wine, ranching, coal and tourism is all here. “We just have to connect the dots,” said Miller. “We want to make full use of this tremendous waterway. Our recreation potential must be expanded and marketed. Let’s make this stretch of river accessible to everyone. There are many put-ins and take-outs all along the river.”
“Did you know Delta County hosts one of the largest stand of aspen trees in North America,” she asked proudly. “The area around the fort was once dilapidated,” she said. “Look at it now. City and county partnerships can be very effective. We want our neighbors to come have a look.”
Like most undertakings of this magnitude the effort here is volunteer driven. Most work for three hours a week performing restorations, writing grants, managing the visitor’s center and participating in reenactments and story telling.
So why not get involved? Take a tour. Walk through our history. Share our traditions.
The Interpretive Association of Western Colorado – Preserving our Public Lands since 1988. For more: firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Kevin Haley