General History

General geography

The Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) is located in the south central part of Colorado, totally on the eastern slope of the Continental Divide. It is named after the Rio Grande del Norte whose headwaters rise on the Forest to the west of Creede.

Portions of two mountain ranges, the Sangre de Cristo to the east and the San Juan to the west, are located within the RGNF.

Located between the ranges is the San Luis Valley, one of several high “parks’’ or basins in Colorado ringed by mountains. The San Luis Valley is a rich agricultural area dependent on runoff from the RGNF area for its extensive irrigation system.

Formation of the forest

Predating the formation of the Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) in 1908 an Act of Congress, dated March 3, 1891, authorized the President to establish reservations of timber lands (State of Colorado 1983). Reasons for this authorization was a growing concern by the public and by newly formed forestry groups for conservation of timber resources. The concern included watershed protection and maintaining the forests for recreational purposes (Robinson 1975).

Public sentiment pertaining to formation of the original Forest Reserves was varied. Generally, the local communities were in favor of the reserves. Farmers wanted protection of the watershed from fire to insure water for irrigation, miners, a continuous supply of timber for their mines, and cattleman wanted the reserves to protect their ranges from overuse by sheep. Local business people were in favor whatever was good for the general welfare of the community (DuBois 1903).

Sheep men opposed the formation of the reserves because they felt that, possibly, the summer range would become closed to sheep grazing altogether. Lumbermen were also worried about restrictions on cutting, although some realized the benefit in the long run (DuBois 1903).

The RGNF was officially created on July 1, 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt in Executive Order Number 887. It was formed by combining 1,102, 798 acres from the existing San Juan National Forest and 159,360 acres from the existing Cochetopa National Forest, for a total of 1,262,158 acres (FS USDA 1908). This original area was within the Rio Grande drainage, excluding the Saguache and Carnero Creek drainages (State of Colorado 1983). In 1944 the west side of the Sangre de Cristo range and the Saguache Creek area were added, while the Mount Blanca area became an addition in 1954 (n.d FS No. 1). Total land area within the RGNF is now 1.84 Million acres.