By Lucas Vader
Earlier this month, Chris Miller, executive director of the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado, reported that Fort Uncompahgre was receiving a convenient educational upgrade, as new interpretive signs were being added around the fort. The signs were added that week, and they delve into the history of all artifacts, structures and the legacy of the Ute Indians.
Concurrently, Miller and the City of Delta have plans for a new trail around the location, connecting a few more pieces of the historic puzzle. All this was explained in the DCI article “Fort Uncompahgre: Short term expansion plans to add educational value.”
These are both short-term plans after all, for the signs are already complete and installed. The trail is high on Delta public works staff’s priority list as well.
While they’re short term, however, Miller explained that the initial upgrades are planned to fit into a much larger picture, which she referred to as the “Gateway Project.”
With the Old Spanish trail having been heavily traveled in the early 1800s and having been the gateway to the canyons, Antione Robidoux had established his trading post at the Fort Uncompahgre site.
Now, in the 21st century, the trail is a historic relic, but otherwise unused and forgotten.
“It was mostly a trapper and trading trail,” Miller said. “The trappers used it and Antione used it to move the hides out of here. There’s a lot of opportunity for us to connect the dots.”
On that north end of town, Delta County has 200 acres of historic land on the Old Spanish Trail, according to Miller. In the City of Delta, there’s a reference to the “Gateway to the Canyons” which are along that trail, but Miller said that’s not specific enough. It is the Gateway to Colorado Canyon Country, historically.
Over this history, Miller said she has had a number of discussions with officials of the area on developing further infrastructure with that in mind.
“This is the only canyon country Colorado has going that way,” Miller said. That’s where “connecting the dots” comes in.
“[We need] to look at getting services,” Miller said. “Our wastewater treatment plant is at capacity. We need to find money to beef it up and get services out that way.”
The discussions that Miller has had with both elected officials of the city and the county are still preliminary, but she said she is becoming more determine to make it happen. She’s encouraged by the amount of communication among the entities that would be involved. Additionally, she has gained a new status as a director for the Old Spanish Trail National Association, making her a liaison between the State of Colorado and the national association, which spans from Colorado down to New Mexico and over to California.
Overall, a term Miller mentioned several times was “stopping power.” With stopping power, the Delta city and county would inevitably benefit economically from a historic trail with both a legacy and modern infrastructure.
The idea, according to Miller, is the same as her view of Fort Uncompahgre but on a larger scale.
Fort Uncompahgre is a nationally designated interpretive site. In fact, it’s the only nationally designated site in the county, according to Miller. Before that, it was a living history museum which was ultimately neglected by the city decades ago.
When Miller and the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado took it over, they did so with the intention to “bring it into the 21st century.”
The same would go for the Old Spanish Trail, Miller said. “We need someone out there pushing that development. The county doesn’t have the time nor does the county have the staff to do it.”
As for the expansion, Miller said she’s giving herself two years to really push the idea, but that so far, her ideas have been met with interest in further pursuing these options.
Miller is confident that she’s the person to drive the development idea forward. With a background in infrastructure, as well as a background in working for the City of Delta and experience with the area that stretches back to 1989, she feels the next steps are clear.
Firstly, according to Miller, the City of Delta is the last municipality that has yet to adequately develop the river corridor. It is currently in the strategic plan of the City of Delta to do so, but it’s a must.
Miller additionally commented on the importance of fixing the roads to the airport and the golf course.
The idea is that the Old Spanish Trail would create stopping power for tourists. Paired with expanded infrastructure, Delta city and county would also have “staying power.”
“We’re starting to have, for the first time, the right conversations,” Miller said. “I’m feeling good about the City Council, I’m feeling good about the city manager, I’m feeling good about the county, I’m feeling good about who they chose for [One Delta County], I’m feeling good.”