The influx of residents to Durango was sparked by the desire and push to lay tracks for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, coupled with the mining of silver and gold during the mid- to late-1800s (www.durangogov.org). Although many flocked to surrounding areas in the pursuit of striking it rich through mining operations, towns such as Silverton, which is located 50 miles to the north of Durango, these areas were not as desirable when it comes to the climate and access to sufficient supplies of water, as well as the coal that was required for the processing of ore (www.durangogov.org).
However, those who traveled to Durango with dreams of finding silver or gold were not the first to call this valley home, as Native Americans had established communities in the area, with some suggesting that the date can be traced back to over 1,200 years (www.durangogov.org). The surrounding areas show the influence the Native American population has contributed to the community, with the Ute Indians the primary tribal population who still calls La Plata County home. Despite the historical tracking of the Native American population in the area being quite impressive, the Ancestral Puebloans resided in the area even prior to the Ute Indians, with the disappearance of the Puebloans still shrouded in mystery (Price, 2017). However, the Ute Indian tribe would also experience a thinning in their population, due, primarily, to the Brunot Treaty of 1873, which essentially evicted and relocated the Ute Indian tribe members from the mountainous region they once called home, in favor of extracting the natural resources from the area (Curtis, 2018).
Boom and Growth
With the discovery of gold and silver, the population experienced a great boom, with the population growth nearly doubling the number of people who resided in Durango, expounding from close to 2,500, to 4,600 over the course of three decades (www.durangogov.org). Between the access to the various mining centers and the expanding railroad, the growth brought an influx of people to the Animas River Valley, which helped to spark the incorporation of Durango 1881 (O’Rourke, 1980).
The mining operations, which was the main reason why the location currently known as Durango, is not nearly as busy as it once was, but the railroads are still in use, providing tours of the gold mines that once served as one of the main sources of employment and draw to the area (www.minetour.com). The population boom is not expected to end the trend soon, as the county of La Plata, which included Durango, is expected to increase by over 75% by the year 2050, when it is forecast to top 95,000 residents (Peterson, 2017).
Although mining is not as big of an attraction in Durango today, the growth trend observed during the early years of the town continues. Instead of railroad cars filled with silver, gold, and iron ore, the population increase can be attributed to a variety of factors. One of the reasons the population has expanded over the past few decades was the relocation of Fort Lewis College from Hesperus, to the current location in Durango (Fort Lewis College, 2018). Expanding minds as the population of the area expands appears to be a trend that will not cease within Durango in the coming years.
Tourism continues to bring more people to the area, with skiing, hunting, hiking, and overall comfortable climate as lures to Durango. The skiing at the nearby Purgatory Durango Mountain resort offers spectacular views and conditions for exploring the great outdoors. The combination of the recreational opportunities, the development of local natural resources, and the educational pursuits that are available, it is expected that the number of both visitors and full-year residents will continue to increase (www.durangogov.org).
There is no wonder why the population of Durango, Colorado has experienced a steady increase over the years. Between the splendid beauty of the terrain and the natural resources, along with the opportunities for higher education, the history of Durango lives on. While the mining operations that once served as the main draw to the area may not be the flourishing opportunity that it was a century or longer ago, the railroads that were once the main source of transportation and mining operation are still in use today. Rich in history, Durango is a great place to visit or call home.
City of Durango. (n.d.). History. Retrieved from http://www.durangogov.org/Index.aspx?NID=274
Curtis, R. (2018). Durango - Prehistory and history of the Durango area. Retrieved from http://durangodowntown.com/durango-prehistory-and-history-of-the-durango-area/
Fort Lewis College. (2018). General history of Fort Lewis College. Retrieved from http://www.fortlewis.edu/master-plan/ExistingConditions/HistoryofFortLewisCollege.aspx
Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour. (2018). The Old Hundred Gold Mine tour: Experience mining in action. Retrieved from http://www.minetour.com
O'Rourke, P. M. (1980). Transportation and mining (1881-1920). In Frontier in transition: A history of Southwestern Colorado. Retrieved from www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/blm/co/10/chap8.htm
Peterson, J. (2017). Water experts prepare for Colorado's population boom. The Durango Herald [Durango]. Retrieved from http://durangoherald.com/articles/167803
Price, M. (2017). 'Vanished' people may live on in the U.S. Southwest. Science. Retrieved from http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/08/vanished-people-may-live-us-southwest