Carving away at the Colorado Plateau for more than two million years, the Gunnison River is one of the West’s great geologic sculptors. The upper river flows through some of the country’s deepest gorges, including the 2,800-foot-deep Black Canyon of the Gunnison. As the river winds its way down into the juniper and scrub oak forests of the Uncompahgre Plateau, it gradually widens and slows. Yet it continues its erosive effect on the landscape, carving surreal shapes into the sandstone cliffs just as it has for millennia.
Before its confluence with the Colorado River, the lower Gunnison passes through the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area (DENCA), the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area and the Bangs Canyon Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA). Scenic canyons and sandstone mesas dominate the landscape, and the area is home to desert bighorn sheep, mountain lion, black bear, river otter, bald eagle and Rocky Mountain elk. Four rare species of Colorado Basin warm-water fish, including the razorback sucker and the Colorado pikeminnow, inhabit the river. The DENCA is also rich in archeological sites, including prehistoric trails and rock art sites. Remote and spectacular, the area offers exceptional hiking, wildlife viewing and boating opportunities.
Despite the area’s extraordinary natural and recreational merits, more than 16 miles of the river within the DENCA are privately owned, and some face the threat of development or gravel mining. With the goal of conserving the Gunnison and ensuring riverlands within the DENCA remains in public hands, Western Rivers Conservancy has been working to purchase strategic inholdings here since 2008.
In 2012, we conveyed a strategically located property to the Bureau of Land Management, preventing a gravel mine on the banks of the Gunnison at the northern entrance of the DENCA. Then, in 2013, we purchased the 135-acre Hollack Homestead, conserving another mile of prized river frontage and the only camping-friendly flats along this stretch of the river. Also in 2013, WRC conveyed a 160-acre upland property known as Gibbler’s Gulch to the BLM, protecting a half-mile of frontage along a small tributary. Combined, these recent acquisitions add 295 acres to the DENCA. Several miles downstream, Western Rivers Conservancy conveyed 214 acres of Gunnison River inholdings, adjacent to the Bangs Canyon SRMA, to the BLM for permanent conservation. Altogether, these acquisitions help ensure that this extraordinary riverland remains healthy and intact for fish, wildlife and people.
Critical support for our work on the Gunnison River has been provided by the L.P. Brown Foundation, ExxonMobil, Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation, Kenney Brothers Foundation and New-Land Foundation.