Between the removal of invasive tamarisk and Russian olive trees, and the creation of a tepee village, Fort Uncompahgre looks much different than it did a year ago when the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado (IAWC) took over operation of the city-owned attraction.
The coming year will bring additional changes, IAWC director Chris Miller and IAWC board president Jody Kliska explained during an update to Delta City Council.
The fort season will be expanded to include the month of October, and instead of being open seven days a week, the fort will be closed Sundays and Mondays. Tour guides will be used for school events; volunteers will be trained to provide public tours. One of the volunteers has already been hired as a part-time fort curator to keep the cabins clean and to keep track of the furnishings and the inventory.
School tours are offered in the spring and the fall. In 2015, 1,850 fourth graders from 70 area schools and over 400 Delta County Backpack kids spent a day at the fort. Miller said she wants to expand the education footprint of the fort, perhaps by utilizing tepees as outdoor classrooms, offering day camps, or scheduling some overnight camp experiences. A GOCO grant will be used to explore the feasibility of establishing an outdoor learning lab known as the Two Rivers Discovery Center.
Two additional grants were received, including a Colorado Water Conservation Board grant that funded the tamarisk removal. The other is pending with the National Park Service Grant Foundation, and would be used for new directional and interpretive
signs at two Old Spanish Trail trailheads in the area.
The name of the fort has been tweaked a bit, to highlight the historic significance of its location. It's now known as Fort Uncompahgre on the Old Spanish Trail. The name is reflected on a new fort brochure, revised Google maps (with the new address of 440 N. Palmer Street), a revitalized website and a Facebook page. Four YouTube videos were produced to showcase the fort.
Volunteers have been important to the success of the fort's operation, Miller and Kliska said. The fort has 27 volunteers who worked in the gift store, restored the native plant garden, served as re-enactors, and did a wide range of repairs and maintenance.
"Our volunteers donated 1,282 hours, and are an excellent reflection of the Delta community," Miller said.
"They're not only a great reflection on the community, but the value of their commitment can be used to leverage grant funds," Kliska added.
They briefly addressed the financial aspect of fort operations, saying the first year IAWC provided a $10,000 subsidy to get the endeavor up and running. Miller believes they've been able to identify ways to cut costs and balance the budget without an ongoing contribution from IAWC.
The only cost to the city has involved basic maintenance.
"We knew going in that the fort couldn't sustain itself as a living history museum and get the bills paid," Miller said. "We knew we needed to add value to an underutilized asset."
Her goal is to plan special events that give folks a reason to return to the fort several times during the year. Some of those events, such as "Meet Me at the Fort" and "Christmas at the Fort" featured reenactors such as flintnappers, blacksmiths and trappers.
Going forward, IAWC is looking for additional opportunities for highway signage. IAWC is planning an event to be held in conjunction with the National Old Spanish Trail Conference to be held in Grand Junction in July. There's also a possibility a fulltime Vista employee in cooperation with the Montrose BLM office.
Miller also plans to pursue congressional designation for the fort as a "National Historic Trails Interpretive Center," further leveraging the connection with the Old Spanish Trail.
Both IAWC and the city expressed a desire to continue their partnership, with the goal of breathing life into the fur-trading post established by Antoine Robidoux in the early 1800s.