Visitation at Fort Uncompahgre has quadrupled since the U.S. Forest Service information office was moved there earlier this summer. The opening of the fort's expanded visitor center was celebrated Saturday, June 23, with dignitaries from the city, county and Interpretive Association of Western Colorado, which operates the city-owned fort.
Chris Miller, IAWC executive director, said IAWC is in the fourth of a five-year agreement intended to add value to an existing asset.
The fort, a replica of the trading post established by Antoine Robidoux, was erected 29 years ago. During the first three years under IAWC, the fort was operated entirely by volunteers. This year, the fort gained an employee when the USFS information center was moved out of the forest headquarters on the south end of Delta, due to extensive remodeling.
IAWC has always been committed to maintaining the living history museum, but Miller said that wasn't enough to pay the bills. One day she realized how many travelers were stopping at the free RV dump station just west of the fort, and she decided to create an information hub for all of the surrounding public lands, including the three national conservation areas on BLM land. There's always been great access to the fort, and visibility increased with the completion of the alternate truck route. Miller has relentlessly pursued additional signage to direct visitors to the fort.
A partnership with the Nature Connection further enhances the value of the fort. Some programming is already taking place with the goal of getting more kids outdoors in their own backyard. Soon, the fort will be the site of a gear hub with fishing and camping gear for local youth to check out. Five tipis will be set up among the cottonwood trees, creating another opportunity for outdoor education.
"Chris is a visionary with boundless energy," said IAWC board president Jody Kliska, one of the guest speakers at the open house. Delta County Commissioner Doug Atchley spoke about the importance of the original trading post to those traveling the Old Spanish Trail. He also reittered the commissioners' commitment to multiple uses of public lands.
Also speaking were Ron Austin, Delta mayor; David Torgler, Delta city manager; and Wilma Erven, director of parks, recreation and culture for the City of Delta.
Kathy See, Uncompahgre Plateau native plant coordinator, was not able to attend but her efforts to establish a native plant/xeriscape pollinating garden at the fort were recognized. Metal silhouettes of an early frontiersman and his pack train were also recently installed at the fort.
"We are looking at Phase II of the native plant garden, so stay tuned," Miller advised.
A collaborative effort between the Delta County Sheriff's Office and municipal law enforcement agencies throughout Delta County has resulted in a proposal for a 1 percent sales tax increase to fund public safety. A PowerPoint presentation titled "Back the Badge" is starting to make the rounds at city/town council meetings, service club luncheons and other events.