By Caitlin Switzer

MONTROSE-It was one of the region’s first “economic development” projects, and portions of the fascinating structure can still be seen to this day. And yet, for many, the Hanging Flume remains as mysterious in 2015 as when it was completed in 1891.

Learn more about this marvel of early day engineering from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on March 24, when the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado (IAWC) holds its annual meeting at Bill Heddles Rec Center (530 Gunnison River Dr.). In conjunction with the meeting, IAWC will screen the 60-minute documentary, The Best Kept Secret of the Wild West, The Hanging Flume.”

“The Flume is the longest Historic Structure in the State of Colorado,” notes the news release issued by IAWC. “Travel back to 1891 when the flume carried water 10 miles and, as designed, powered hydraulic cannon at the Montrose Placer Mining Company Claims downstream along the Dolores River.”

Though the Hanging Flume is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the World Monument Fund named it as one of the “100 Most Endangered Sites in the World” in 2006. The Hanging Flume is located in Montrose County, on State Highway 141 along the Unaweep/ Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway, and represents an important element of Western History, according to the Interpretive Plan developed for the Flume by Durango firm Interpretive Design, LLC. The plan also notes that though most of the nation’s historic flume structures have fallen into disrepair, “Due to the arid conditions of the southwest and the general southern exposure of the Montrose Placer Mining Company Hanging Flume, many segments remain visible on the sandstone cliff face.”

According to IAWC, which helped reconstruct 48 feet of the Hanging Flume in 2012 with funds from a state historic grant, the Flume in its heyday carried 80 million gallons of San Miguel River water every 24 hours, through 13 miles of wooden flume and earthen ditch to a site just four miles from the confluence of the San Miguel and Delores rivers.

“An engineering marvel, the Flume was constructed using earthen and wooden canals, wooden bents and a wooden box secured by iron rods and fasteners,” the IAWC web site notes. “Without photographs or written accounts of the Flume’s construction, experts can only speculate on how it was built.”

IAWC celebrates its 27th anniversary this year, having been founded in 1988 to coordinate the scientific, educational, historic and interpretive activities of local public lands agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service. Among other exciting developments, The Interpretive Association is now taking applications for volunteers to help with the operations of the Fort‘s Visitor Center and Gift Shop, and is now booking school tours for the months of April and May.   The opening weekend event will be free to the public.

“Organization of a Friends of the Fort and the Old Spanish Trail Advisory Group will top the list of priorities,” IAWC Executive Director Chris Miller said. “IAWC also needs volunteers that are interested in Exterior Exhibits and Trails, Social Media, Historic Restoration Workshops, Ethno-History Programs, and Cultural & Natural History programs.”

Volunteer Training will be provided, she said, and incentives for volunteers will include an annual pass to the Fort and a Year-end Volunteer Appreciation BBQ at the Fort.  A minimum of four hours per week of volunteer time is requested.  For information on how you can get involved and to request a volunteer application please contact Chris Miller, Executive Director, 970-874-6695 or email info@interpcolorado.org.

IAWC plans to operate the Fort seven-days a week, opening in June to the Public when the new parking structure is completed and closing the end of September for winter, Miller said.