By Caitlin Switzer
DELTA—(May 6, 2014) The Old Spanish Trail no longer serves as the trade route between New Mexico and California, leading venturesome travelers over mountains, deserts and canyons in search of the golden West Coast. And yet the trail’s history may play a role in the future of our region, helping us to remember our past. A coalition of historians and government offi-cials hope to honor the legacy of the Old Spanish Trail’s North Branch by re-purposing the Fort Uncompahgre historic site located near Confluence Park (easily accessible from two US highways) as a regional Interpretive and Visitor Center.
On Sunday May 18, interested locals can learn more by attending the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado (IAWC)’s reenactment of a day in the life of the historic Fort. According to a news re-lease issued by IAWC, visitors are welcomed to “step back in time with us as we explore the first trading post on the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail and learn about life 160 years ago.”
A team of professional interpreters headed by William Bailey will be on site from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., providing a living depiction of the year 1840 and the lives of early day fur trappers. Meet characters from the history books, watch them perform daily tasks, and experience traditional arts such as blacksmithing, adobe work, cooking, and games. There will be lessons on the operation of a flintlock rifle as well.
To IAWC Executive Director Chris Mil-ler, it seems not only feasible but logical for Fort Uncompahgre to be re-purposed as an Interpretive Center for the north branch of the Old Spanish Trail. Miller believes Fort Uncompahgre could be used as a visi-tor and interpretive center not only for the Old Spanish Trail, but also for surrounding public lands managed by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service and Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife.
“The Fort would provide these agencies with a strategic location to communicate with the public about the resources, how they are managed, and the different uses, safety concerns and appropriate public access points while encouraging responsible recreation,” Miller explained.
Fort Uncompahgre is conveniently located for accessing both public lands and other local historic sites, and is a recreation of Trapper Antoine Roubidoux’s trading post, active between the years 1828 and 1844. For Native Americans of that time and place, the original Fort provided the first contact with European Americans, and was located about two miles down from the con-fluence of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre riv-ers. Its design was more to secure goods and livestock than to be defensive, and was abandoned in 1844 when hostilities broke out between Mexican settlers and the Ute Indians, according to information provided by the IAWC.
Also according to the news release, the proposed Visitor and Interpretive Center would provide a central location for visitors to get oriented to the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail, part of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail 1829-1848. The Old Spanish Trail was recognized by Congress in 2002 with the Old Spanish Trail Recognition Act. Its North Branch ran through traditional Ute hunting grounds, and was a trade route used by explorers, trappers and traders. It ran from New Mexico through the San Luis Valley, over the Great Divide to the Gunnison and Uncompahgre rivers, eventually reaching the Uintah Basin.
The Center would help visitors properly interpret the intrinsic qualities of local public lands and offer tips for safe travel. Land management agencies would gain a strategic location to communicate with the public about the resources and how they are being managed, as well the different uses, safety concerns and appropriate public access points.
To learn more, contact the IAWC’s Chris Miller at 970-640-7076.