Fort Uncompahgre was a lively site Saturday. Visitors in period costume sampled traditional Mexican fare while browsing the open air market. Vaqueros traversed the courtyard on horseback, while kids gathered under a large canopy for games organized by the Girl Scouts. The Mexican flag flew over the fort, reminscent of the days when western Colorado was part of the Mexican territory. A variety of events honored the Mexican trappers and laborers who once worked the fort.
Colorado Old Spanish Trail Days is expected to become an annual event, and one of many seasonal activities that have been held at the fort since the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado (IAWC) took over operation of the city-owned asset three years ago.
Antoine Robidoux established Fort Uncompahgre at the junction of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre rivers in 1828. The trading post served as a hub on the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail, a historic trade route that connected the Spanish settlements of Santa Fe and Taos with the California missions of Los Angeles.
Now, Fort Uncompahgre is once again at the crossroads of history. In conjunction with Colorado Old Spanish Trail Days, a dedication ceremony was held, acknowledging the fort as the first interpretive center on the Northern Branch of the Old Spanish Trail.
Chris Miller, IAWC executive director, read a letter from the Bureau of Land Management, stating that official designation will result in a "substantial" amount of funding to support the interpretive center and educational pullouts along Highway 50.
The Northern Branch of the Old Spanish Trail traversed over 1,200 miles of mountains, deserts, rivers and canyons. Later, fur trappers followed the same route and in the 1850s guided military expeditions of John Gunnison and William Loring.
For the most part, Miller read, present-day Highway 50 parallels the route between Delta and Grand Junction. A substantial portion is found on public lands administered by the BLM. Some of the physical vestiges of the original trail and the military wagon roads of the 1800s can still be seen across the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area.
While BLM is contributing funding, the National Park Service will oversee interpretive efforts. The Old Spanish Trail Association is also actively
involved. North Branch president Jonathan Carr of Grand Junction said Fort Uncompahgre represents a special legacy, a place where diverse cultures came together, often to trade but sometimes in conflict.
The history of the fort, of the Old Spanish Trail, and of westward expansion was shared with nearly 2,000 fourth grade students this year, Miller said.
Also speaking at the dedication ceremony were Delta County Commissioner Doug Atchley and council members Christopher Ryan and Gerald Roberts.
Wilma Erven, director of parks, recreation and golf for the City of Delta, paid tribute to Bill Bailey, who built the fort with volunteer labor and donated materials. He continues to be an integral part of the fort operations. She also mentioned Dan Deuter, Paul Suppes and Ken Reyher, all of whom managed Fort Uncompahgre over the years.
Last, but not least, she paid tribute to Chris Miller "for how she has, and continues, to move us forward. It is her who has made this happen."
She has organized a crew of volunteers who serve as docents and do maintenance in the facility, which is open from June through Oct. 31. She encourages anyone who is interested in volunteering at the fort to contact her at 874-8349 or 640-7076.