History & Culture

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.

History and Culture of the San Luis Valley Area

Native American Paleo-Indian cultures, beginning with the Clovis and Folsom Complexes (11,000 years ago) were the first know inhabitants of the area. These and the following cultures of the Archaic Stage and the Ute Indians lived by hunting animals and gathering native plants found in the area.

The Town of Creede, Colorado

Today Creede is a quiet and picturesque village of about 400 permanent residents that lies nestled between the steep canyon walls of Willow Creek at an elevation of 8,852 feet. Creede, however, was not always such a small or quiet.

Historic Places of the Conejos Peak District

The Conejos River drainage basin and the San Luis Valley have had a long and colorful history. The history of the Conejos peak Ranger District is interwoven with that of the San Luis Valley because the people setting in the valley depended upon the surrounding mountains for much of their food, clothing, and shelter

Mining History of Conejos Peak District

 Cornwall District boomed in 1874 after discovery of gold at Summitville brought prospectors to the area...

History of the Timber Industry on the Rio Grande National Forest

With settlement increasing in the San Luis Valley during the 1860’s, an increased use and demand for forest products grew...

Early Sawmills

A list and description of early sawmills from Rio Grande National Forest Report on Timber written in 1949.

Early Transportation

The Denver and Rio Grande Railway constructed its San Juan Extension, between Alamosa and Durango, in the 1880’s, to tap the booming mining industry of the San Juan Mountains...