October 13, 2014

Conserving a Western Icon: A New Initiative on the Mighty Rio Grande

Photography | The Rio Grande flows through Colorado’s San Luis Valley, where WRC is acquiring 17,808 acres in an effort to conserve four miles of riverland and improve public access to this iconic stream. Photo by Andy Cook.

Few rivers occupy a place in the country’s collective imagination like the Rio Grande. One of the West’s most iconic rivers, the “Brave River of the North” flows for nearly 2,000 miles, from its headwaters in southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico. Although much of the lower river has been diverted or impounded by dams, extensive reaches of the upper river remain critical to imperiled fish and wildlife and offer outstanding recreation opportunities. In these upper reaches, Western Rivers Conservancy has secured a rare opportunity to protect an expansive reach of riverland for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people.

Near the Rio Grande’s headwaters, in Colorado’s high San Luis Valley, WRC has committed to purchase 17,808 acres of land controlling more than four miles of riverfront. The effort will conserve a crucial reach of the Rio Grande in an area that has lost significant fish and wildlife habitat to development, and where precious little riverfront is accessible to the public.

The project lies within the congressionally designated Rio Grande Natural Area, located between the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge and New Mexico’s Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River corridor. Our acquisition of these lands will allow for restoration of stream habitat, which will benefit imperiled native fish like the Rio Grande chub and Rio Grande sucker.

The San Luis Valley sits at the western edge of the Central Flyway and provides crucial habitat for an array of migratory bird species, including ducks, cranes, geese and an estimated 95% of the Rocky Mountain’s sandhill crane population. The area also provides habitat for a plethora of songbird species, and the reach WRC will purchase has been designated critical habitat for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. 

It is rare for a San Luis Valley property of this size to come up for sale along the Rio Grande. Given the opportunity, we are moving quickly to acquire these lands. Once the project is complete, an extensive and important reach of this great river will be conserved and open to the public forever.

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