In 1881, Enos Hotchkiss camped on Rogers Mesa, awestruck by the beauty of the North Fork Valley. But it was Samuel Wade who recognized that the climate was ideal for growing fruit and who planted the first peach and apple trees in the valley.
Other early settlers staked claims and began raising cattle that thrived on the tall grass.
At the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and many other expositions over the years, Delta County fruit was awarded numerous first prizes. With the extension of the rail line in 1902, Paonia and Hotchkiss growers began shipping long train loads of fruit to eastern cities.
The peoples' history of the North Fork Valley reflects fundamental values: courage, hard work and a love for the land — values that remain important today. Descendants of the early settlers continue to raise cattle and grow fruit, and they've been joined by new "pioneers" who have invested their time, wealth and labor growing fruit and vegetables, producing award-winning wines, baking artisan breads, and culturing award-winning goat cheese.
Looming on the horizon, however, is a challenge unlike any other: the threat of gas drilling near vineyards, orchards and grazing livestock —as well as our homes. Our courage, hard work and a love for the land are being tested once again.
Following months of meetings and citizen pressure, the Bureau of Land Management deferred the lease sale of most of the nominated parcels. This provided time for a coalition of growers, ranchers, business people, and two vital organizations, the Western Slope Conservation Center and Citizens for A Healthy Community, to create the North Fork Alternative Plan, which will significantly reduce the risks associated with gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
The North Fork Alternative Plan will protect the North Fork River and its tributaries, domestic and irrigation water sources, our health, wildlife and wildlife habitat, as well as recreation areas such as Jumbo Mountain. It will provide this protection by calling for wider drill pad setbacks from water sources, communities and agricultural land, and no surface occupancy on other important public lands.
The Paonia Town Council has endorsed the North Fork Alternative Plan. It is now time to let members of the Crawford and Hotchkiss Town Councils know that we support the North Fork Alternative Plan and that they should pass resolutions to the BLM stating their support. You can also show your support by signing a petition at the Conservation Center website (www.conservationcenter.org) or the CHC website (www.citizensforahealthycommunity.org), which will be presented to the BLM.
Together, with the courage, hard work and love for the land of the early settlers, we will protect the North Fork Valley for future generations.