DURANGO, Colo.— Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett and Chairman John L. Nau, III of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation joined the city of Durango today to honor three new Preserve America communities in southwest Colorado. They presented designation certificates signed by First Lady Laura Bush, Honorary Chair of Preserve America, to the city of Durango, Montezuma County and Pagosa Springs.
Designation as a Preserve America Community provides national recognition for the historic preservation achievements of communities, while also serving as a way to enhance the contribution of heritage tourism and other economic development strategies to the economies of these communities. This unique designation indicates that the community is working to preserve and use its heritage to build for the future.
“Each community has its own story,” said Scarlett. “These stories present opportunities—opportunities for heritage tourism, education and historic preservation. Through Preserve America, and, with the help of the Preserve America grant program, these stories come alive.”
“Preserve America communities illustrate the importance of historic preservation to economic development,” Nau said. “Through the Preserve America grants, these communities and many others can continue to invest in their future by preserving their past.”
Durango, Colo. was founded in 1880, and incorporated in 1881, when the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Company established the town as a hub for its rail system into the mountains. Originally used to transport ore to the smelters in Durango, today the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad transports approximately 200,000 tourists annually to visit the historic towns of Durango and Silverton, and to enjoy the stunning mountain vistas and the Animas River canyon in-between. The community of Durango has evolved from a mining town to a town that thrives as a result of dedication to preserving its history and culture.
Montezuma County, Colo. has been a trading center for more than two thousand years. Area stories weave together to create a living history of Native peoples, Spanish explorers, and modern ranchers and farmers. Native American heritage is highly visible in the archaeological sites of Mesa Verde National Park, the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument and the Ute Tribal Park. After the Ancestral Pueblo people migrated from the area, Navajo and Ute people arrived in the 14th and 15th centuries. Later the Spanish traversed the county in the late 1700s while enroute to establishing the Spanish Trail. Their influence is seen in place names throughout Montezuma County. Organized in 1889, Montezuma County historically developed as a result of providing mining towns in the San Juan mountains with supplies. Dolores area timber resources were harvested for building, Mancos Valley cattle ranches fed the mining communities, and the lower elevations of the county around Cortez supplied agriculture products. By the turn of the 20th century the mining boom had played out and agriculture became the mainstay of the county. Today the county depends on tourism in addition to agriculture and light industry.
Pagosa Springs, Colo. is located on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains and is the location of naturally occurring mineral springs. The area was first discovered by Native American Ute tribes, and the name “Pagosa” was derived from the Ute word “Pagosah” meaning “healing or boiling waters.” The Native Americans believed these springs had healing powers. Ownership rights and control over these hot springs were a source of conflict between the Utes and the Navajo until the federal government officially claimed ownership over the hot springs in 1880, leading to settlement of the area. The Town of Pagosa Springs was platted in 1883 and officially incorporated in 1891. In the early years of the 20th century local residents started to promote the hot springs and the natural beauty of the San Juan Mountains and the surrounding national forest lands in an attempt to attract tourists.
Preserve America is a White House initiative to encourage and support community efforts for the preservation and enjoyment of our priceless cultural and natural heritage. The goals of the initiative include a greater shared knowledge about the nation’s past, strengthened regional identities and local pride, increased local participation in preserving the country’s cultural and natural heritage assets, and support for the economic vitality of our communities. For more information on the Preserve America initiative, visit www.PreserveAmerica.gov.