West Elk Loop
Unlike its fruit-growing neighbors, Crawford, on Highway 92, was founded primarily on cattle, hay and grain. Too high for economically viable fruit growing, and far from North Fork coal deposits, Crawford was cattle country.
Crawford was established on the Smith Fork of the Gunnison in the early 1880s. The town was named for Captain George Crawford, an early pioneer
Today, Crawford remains a ranching and agricultural community - quiet, rural and remote. Tourism adds to the local economy thanks to recreational amenities at Crawford State Park and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Crawford State Park
The Bureau of Reclamation built Crawford Reservoir in 1963 for storing high water runoff for irrigation. Located one mile south of Crawford on Highway 92, it is managed by the Colorado Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation and has two campgrounds, Clear Fork and Iron Creek. Both campgrounds have physically challenged accessible facilities, showers and flush toilets, but only Iron Creek has water and electric hookups at each campsite. There are two boat ramps with loading docks, a ski beach, a swimming beach and hiking trails. Entry fees and camping fees are charged. A visitor center offers information, modern facilities and exhibits.
Enos T. Hotchkiss was one of the first white men to set eyes on the North Fork Valley when he rode in on horseback in 1879. Hotchkiss staked out a ranch in 1881 and established the North Fork as a prominent fruit-growing region.
Like its neighbor Paonia, Hotchkiss provided a diverse local economy that included cattle and mining. The Denver & Rio Grande Railroad introduced rail transport by 1902. The Hotchkiss Fruit Company promoted and marketed Hotchkiss fruit as far away as New York City and Chicago.
Today, Hotchkiss is a quiet, rural, retirement community of about 900 residents. Its livelihood is primarily agriculture and tourism. The Hotchkiss Fairgrounds hosts the Delta County Fair on the first full week of August. A Sheep Dog Trials is held, as is the Black Canyon Arts Festival and the Colorado Grand, a sports car rally.
The Hotchkiss/Crawford Historical Museum
The Hotchkiss Historical Society was formed in 1974 and displays the town’s history with photographs and artifacts. The Museum features a carousel of historic photographs, an extensive barbed wire display, a collection of Ute and other Indian artifacts, and period collections of clothing and equipment depicting ranching and home life from the pioneer era. The Hotchkiss Museum is located on Second Street, one block south of Highway 133 in the Veterans of Foreign War Building.
Named for the Peony flower (the Latin spelling Paeonia) by its founder, Samuel Wade, Paonia has a gentle climate, a rich river valley and an array of fertile mesas watered by the surrounding creeks and streams. Wade and his friend Enos T. Hotchkiss arrived in 1881.
These pioneers recognized the agricultural potential of the valley, which was rich in wild fruit, big game, fish and beaver, and in 1882 planted the first orchards. An elaborate system of ditches was built to irrigate the trees. Once the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad pushed its line into the North Fork from Delta in 1902 - the year of Paonia’s incorporation - the region boomed with record fruit production.
Today, Paonia remains an agricultural, mining and ranching community, with a strong tourist and recreational economy. Fruit picking season provides the valley with a lively enterprise and a delicious legacy.
The North Fork Historical and Preservation Society
On July 4, 1974, the North Fork Historical and Preservation Society was established to protect and interpret historical resources of the Paonia and North Fork area. An interpretive museum and the relocated Bowie schoolhouse are located on the banks of the North Fork of the Gunnison River near the Highway 133 entrance to Paonia.
Paonia State Park
The Bureau of Reclamation built Paonia Reservoir in 1960 to provide flood control on Muddy Creek and to act as a silt trap for the creek before it flows into the North Fork River. Water in the reservoir irrigates over 12,000 acres of farm and ranch land in Paonia and Hotchkiss.
Paonia State Park is managed by the Colorado Division of State Parks and the US Bureau of Reclamation. The park consists of the 2.5 mile-long reservoir and adjacent land. Entrance and camping fees are charged, and facilities include primitive campsites, picnic area and boat ramp (bring your own drinking water). Boating and water skiing are popular activities, and the nearby Raggeds Wilderness offers many miles of hiking and equestrian trails.
Mixed conifer forest, aspen and Gambel oak shrublands are common in the park, providing shelter for birds such as hawks, eagles and migratory songbirds. Mule deer and elk are commonly seen, as are cottontails, marmots, raccoons, skunks and coyotes.