A Path through the Wilderness: The Story of Forest Road 150
Forest System Road (FSR) 150 began its life as the North Star Road in the 1870s. Used primarily as a military road, it connected several military forts and camps in the area during the Apache-U.S. Army conflicts in the late 1800s. Citizens of Grant County also thought it would provide safer passage to and from the Mimbres Valley and Silver City Area than other routes.
Military personnel worked to construct the North Star Road. “In 1877, the North Star Road was described as extending “… into the Rio Grande Valley near Sabinal where it intersects the river road… It did connect Fort Bayard and Grant County to the areas north of it.”
Forest Road 150 begins within the confines of the Gila National Forest and stretches north about 55 miles from NM 35 near Mimbres past Beaverhead Work Center to NM 163, north of the Gila National Forest boundary. FR 150 is the main road accessing this area of the Gila National Forest. Its location between two Wilderness Areas, Aldo Leopold and the Gila, makes it an important corridor for public access, as well as, administrative access for the Gila National Forest.
It is thought that the bridges and culverts along the FR 150/North Star Road are from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) era. The culverts on the road can be directly linked to the CCC through Forest Service documentation. The bridges also show some characteristics of CCC design.
A Path through the Wilderness: The Story of Forest Road 150 (Gila National Forest, Erin Knolles, Assistant Forest Archaeologist, March 2016)
The next chapter of the history of FR 150 involves the CCC.
The Creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps:
President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in March of 1933. He began working to bring about reforms and legislation to address the Great Depression. These ‘New Deal” reforms touched on employment, banking, farming, industry, etc. The Emergency Conservation Work Act, which is better known as the Civilian Conservation Corps, and proposed recruiting unemployed young men to work in National Forests and on other public lands to reduce erosion and help save the nation’s natural resources.
The CCC on the Gila National Forest:
The Gila National Forest had about 17 camps operating within or near its boundaries from 1933-42. On and near the Gila National Forest, work projects included ranger stations at Beaverhead, Luna Barn, and Mimbres, campground and picnic area improvements at Black Canyon, Iron Creek, Little Walnut, Pueblo Creek, Whitewater/Catwalk, and Willow Creek, road construction at Bursum Road (NFSR 28) and North Star Road (NFSR 150). Today, the Gila National Forest can link several cultural sites to this era.
FR 150 and the CCC
CCC enrollees from the camps at Mimbres and Beaverhead worked on the North Star Road intermittently from 1934-40. This work included maintenance and betterment work including culverts, headwalls, and catch basins. It is thought that the bridges and culverts along the FR 150/North Star Road are from the CCC era. As seen above, culverts on the road can be directly linked to the CCC through Forest Service documentation. They also show characteristics of being from that era.
FR 150 and the First Wilderness Area
Most documentation described FR 150/North Star Road as a military or wagon road, and was improved upon by the Gila National Forest and the CCC in the 1930s. This influenced the boundaries of both the Gila and Aldo Leopold Wildernesses.
In October 1922, Aldo Leopold proposed the formation of the Gila Wilderness Area. In June 1924, the wilderness area was created. When the Gila Wilderness was designated by the Recreation Plan, the area totaled 755,000 acres. However, by 1933, the Gila Wilderness was split into two landmasses, the Gila Primitive Area (573,893 acres), and the Black Range Primitive Area (185,623), separated by FR 150. The boundaries of the areas changed several times over the years, prior to their official designations as Wilderness Areas. In 1977 it is explained that one of “the first adjustments to the Gila Wilderness boundaries came about because of FR 150. Due to the vague language in the ‘Recreation Working Plan,’ the fact that FR 150/North Star Road accessed private land and still received use, the actual or perceived need for Forest Administrative access (specifically for fire), and the reclassification of the Gila Wilderness Area as a Primitive Area, all provided some reasoning behind the Gila National Forest’s decision to allow FR 150 to be improved upon. Regardless of the reason behind improving FR 150, its improvement shaped the history of the Gila Wilderness.
The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Gila National Forest (Gila National Forest, Erin Knolles, Assistant Forest Archaeologist, December 2016)