Our Communities

More than Meets the Mountains

Welcome to Southwest Colorado! For those of us fortunate to live in one of the five counties of Archuleta, La Plata, Montezuma, Dolores and San Juan, we know that there is a spirit in the Southwest Colorado mountains. A mountain magic that keeps us grounded, caring and community-oriented. Our mountain towns are unique and special places of diversity, hardship, hard work, trading, community, family and talent. Our mountain town citizens are an eclectic mix of generational and transient, pooling a wealth of different skills and experience. Despite the hardships and the adversities these places draw us near and keep us here. We are as understated and humble, as we are professional, committed, collaborative and forward thinking.

All five counties in the Southwest Colorado region share similarities, yet each has unique social, economic and environmental challenges and opportunities. Each county has written a profile to describe their communities, interests and unique aspects to help you understand the place we call home. The social, economic and environmental components of each county vary greatly and demonstrate the unique qualities of their communities including citizens, jobs, wages, recreation, environment, geography, and civic aspects.

Archuleta County is located in Southwest Colorado and sits at an altitude of 7,079 feet. It is comprised of 1,364 sq. miles featuring a variety of topography, from high alpine mountains to sandstone river canyons and high desert vistas. Only 34% of lands in Archuleta County are in private ownership. Tribal lands compromise 14.4% of the county, and the remaining 51.6% of lands are under federal ownership within the San Juan National Forest.

Pagosa Springs, the county seat, is located 30 miles north of the New Mexico border, and 60 miles east of Durango, Colorado. The two other primary towns within the county are Arboles and Chromo. These communities are isolated. Residents must travel 277 miles to Denver, or 212 miles to Albuquerque, which are the closest major cities.


The 2010 US Census estimated the county population at 12,084 residents. From 1990 to 2000, the population grew 8.5%; annually; however, from 2000 to 2010 the population of Archuleta County only grew by 2.2%, annually. This population growth rate is consistently thesecond highest in the Southwest region. Pagosa Springs is currently attracting a younger demographic, as 37.7% of the current population is between 45 – 64 years old. Yet, retirees bring in $70.4 million (21%) of the county’s Total Personal Income.


In Archuleta County, the most important direct base industry is the service sector, including real estate, This sector is comprised of 2,336 jobs and employs 42% of workers in the county. A large percentage of Archuleta County’s real estate belongs to non- or part-time residents, representing the highest percentage in the Southwest region. The construction and trade industry are the second most source of job income is derived from the service sector.

The cost of living continues to rise in many communities in Southwest Colorado, and remains a concern in Archuleta County. Archuleta County’s cost of living increased 17% from 2010 to 2014. A livable wage in Pagosa Springs is $11.67 per hour. The 2011 per capita income in Archuleta was $31,536, compared to $44,053 for the state of Colorado. Unemployment in 2012 was 9.4-%, compared to the state average of 8.0%.


The population is served by the Archuleta County 50 Jt. School District, which currently enrolls 1,323 students at its’ four public K-12 schools. This enrollment is down 167 students from 2010. Six hundred and fifty-six students (49.6%) qualify for the free or reduced lunch program. Thirty-eight percent of the county’s public school students are designated minority; a 9.5% increase since 2010. Archuleta County has a 73% graduation rate, compared to 70% for the state. In 2013, Mary Kurt Mason, the Special Education Teacher at Pagosa Springs High School, was awarded one of six “People Magazine’s Teacher of the Year” awards.

After a difficult few years, the Archuleta County Education Center has transitioned from a bricks and mortar facility to sharing space and virtual services. They offer after-school tutoring and enrichment programs for elementary school students, GED exam preparation and testing and English as a Second Language classes for adults.

GOAL Academy is a Free Public Blended Format High School serving students in ninth through twelfth grade across Colorado. Students can access help online or at any of the 23 Drop-In Centers located throughout the state. The Pagosa Springs GOAL facility serves approximately 100 students a year. Their programs include academic and experiential opportunities for students, including state required core courses and hands-on programs which build learning and life skills through various activities such as travel, film studies, art classes and more.


Seeds of Learning in Pagosa Springs

Seeds of Learning in Pagosa Springs

The wealth of local recreational opportunities is integral to the quality of life of Archuleta County’s residents and also plays an important role in our area’s tourism industry. Whether enjoying world-class skiing or snowboarding at Wolf Creek Ski Area (the Most Snow in Colorado!), or fly fishing, whitewater rafting and kayaking on the San Juan River, our residents and visitors place great value upon the natural environment. Archuleta County is the gateway to 2.8 million acres of wilderness and national forest areas, providing year-round recreational opportunities including hiking, mountain biking, photography, horseback riding, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, hunting, ATVing and rock climbing. Pagosa Springs is home to the Great Pagosa Hot Spring, the deepest natural hot spring in the world, as designated by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012. A key piece of Archuleta County’s community vision is to promote stewardship of the land, protect open space and keep our air and water clean.


Colorfest Hot Air Balloon Rally

Colorfest Hot Air Balloon Rally

On January 7, 2008, the Pagosa Mountain Hospital (PMH) opened to offer acute care service in Archuleta County. Previously, the nearest hospital was in Durango. The PMH maintains 24-hour emergency and ambulance services, 7 days a week, as well as an 11-bed hospital, Monday-Saturday primary care unit, and a highly regarded Wellness Center program.

In addition to a full lab and pharmacy, diagnostics including the region’s only 128-slice CT scanner, general surgery, gastroenterology, and cardiovascular telemedicine services. The medical center is developing new programs to address other specific community needs. Beginning in January 2014, the center will open the H. Pat and Nancy E. Artis Mammography Suite, as part of a complete Women’s Health Program, which will include bone density screening and personalized “Patient Navigator” support.


New CT Scanner at Pagosa Springs Medical Center

New CT Scanner at Pagosa Springs Medical Center

Cultural tourism plays a huge role in the area’s economic picture. Numerous festivals and events take place throughout the year, which draw thousands of visitors to Archuleta County. Additionally, Pagosa Springs has several active theater groups, a Pagosa Makers council and a handful of music-oriented nonprofits that add to the quality of life for residents. Theatrical community group “Curtains Up Pagosa” (formerly Music Boosters) is celebrating their 25th anniversary of producing quality musical events in Pagosa Springs.

Historical preservation is important to Archuleta County and the San Juan Historical Society operates a museum and promotes a historic walking tour of downtown Pagosa Springs. The area is also rich in ancient history, The Chimney Rock National Monument was designated a National Monument in October of 2012.

The annual Archuleta County Fair preserves our traditional rural culture of ranchers. Its total attendance in 2013 was 7,159 people; an improvement of 2,100 people from 2009. Activities to increase attendance and interest in our heritage include the Colorado Fast Draw State Championship, a Ranch Rodeo and a BBQ cook-off. The Junior Livestock Auction is one of the most successful in the state in terms of income to the 4-H youth.

Children, Youth & Seniors

Stunning view from Reservoir Hill

Stunning view from Reservoir Hill

A continual challenge in Archuleta County is providing services to our most vulnerable populations, the very young and the very old. According to the 2012 Kids Count in Colorado report, there are approximately 600 children in Archuleta County under the age of five. Unfortunately, to date, there are only 191 licensed early care and education slots available. There are six licensed home daycares and three preschools, but infant care is virtually non-existent. Investment in early childhood education from birth to age five, especially for disadvantaged children, will help prevent the achievement gap, reduce the need for special education, increase the likeliness of healthier lifestyles, lower the crime rate and reduce overall social costs.

The Pagosa Springs Youth Center opened in January 2009 to fill a youth services gap. The Center offers a hot meal or snack and gives our youth a warm and fun place to meet, complete with a gymnasium, game room, computer room and full kitchen. This 8,000 sq. ft. building is considered a home to many teens and provides adult supervision and supportive programs.

Locally, significant increases in violent crime were identified in 2009, most notably in sexual assault cases (71% increase) and family violence and assault cases (14% increase). Last year, local advocacy agencies served a total of 434 victims, responding to a 30% increase in crisis call volume, most likely due to problems related to the economic crisis.

An area of concern is the growing population of seniors, and the related demand for services. In 2013, 8,000 congregate meals were served and 3,400 meals were delivered to a population that is temporarily or permanently homebound. These meals allow residents to retain some independence and help keep them out of long-term care facilities. Assisted transportation to senior support facilities, grocers or doctors’ appointments resulted in 3,473 one-way trips.

The economic downturn of 2009 – 2012, has hit Archuleta County particularly hard because of past reliance upon building and real estate as the primary economic drivers. Any true economic development in our future must address not only job creation, but also affordable housing, industry diversification, development of infrastructure, education, small business support, availability of additional early care and education slots and nonprofit support. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Archuleta County today is the need to align much-needed economic growth and development in ways that will enhance the quality of residents’ lives while also protecting our natural environment.


Dolores County borders Utah on the west and is only a short drive north from New Mexico. The original settlers included members of the Ute, Navajo and Paiute tribes. Beginning in 1914, the western part of the county was one of the last areas in the United States to be homesteaded, although a number of traders, slaves, horses and cowboys had passed through the area along the Old Spanish Trail. Rico and Dove Creek are the only incorporated towns in the county. There are a number of small settlements and post offices in various locations throughout Dolores, including: Dunton, Cahone, Squaw Point, Egnar, Bug Point and Cedar Point.

Credit Aaron Ontiveroz


From Disappointment Valley at 5,900 feet to Mount Wilson at 14,046 feet, Dolores County encompasses 1,064 square miles of high mountains, mesas and narrow valleys. Approximately 60% of Dolores County is public land, managed through the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. This includes treasures such as Dolores Canyon Overlook and the San Juan National Forest, and hiking and biking trails and other recreational opportunities.

In addition to the breathtaking scenery, Dolores County is ideally situated for hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing. Six species of big game animals call Dolores County home: mule deer, elk, black bear, mountain lion and desert bighorn sheep. Beaver and river otter inhabit the Dolores River, along with bald and golden eagles during the winter. A large portion of the Dolores River is managed as a quality trout fishery, allowing fishermen the opportunity to hook trophy sized Brown Rainbow and Cutthroat trout.

Dolores Public Lands

Dolores Public Lands


According to the 2010 Census, Dolores County’s total population was 2,064, with 735 citizens residing in the town of Dove Creek and 265 citizens in the town of Rico. The town of Dove Creek is the county seat and the most populous town of Dolores County. The current unemployment rate is 9.5%, compared to a national rate of 6.7% and 6.8% in Colorado. Dolores County formerly held the highest unemployment rate in the state, but now ranks as the 5th highest in Colorado.


Agriculture is a prominent way of life in Dolores County. Most farming is high altitude dry land, with a strong emphasis on soil and water conservation production practices. The average farm is 623 acres, with most area farms still owned and operated by descendants of the original homesteaders. Dolores County is one of the few counties that is located on the western slope of Colorado’s mountains whose economy continues to be farm dependent.

Of the 772,211 acres of land in Dolores County, only 274,460 acres are privately owned. Of the privately owned land, approximately 158,000 acres are in farm or crop land. An estimated 7,600 acres (5%) are irrigated. Irrigation water arrived in Dolores County in 1993. It is used for crops, lawns (where available), commercial enterprises and is the major raw water source for the Town of Dove Creek. Since the arrival of limited irrigation, interest has grown in crop diversification, including vegetable and fruit tree production. Drought is a major factor for farmers because approximately 95% of farmland is not under irrigation. The major crops grown in the county are spring and winter wheat, dry beans, oats, alfalfa and grass hay.

The county also has mineral resources such as: uranium, carbon dioxide gas (CO2), helium, natural gas, oil and potash. Mineral extraction has improved Dolores County’s income and is expected to increase in the future. For the year 2013, a 64% tax revenue was generated from oil and gas. Beginning in 2015, Dolores County will welcome a helium extraction facility operated by Air Products Helium, Inc. This helium plant will extract the helium from the existing CO2 gas stream coming from the Kinder Morgan CO2 gas plant. The helium extraction plant is expected to employ 12 full-time employees to operate the facility and would generate in excess of $1 million in property tax revenue, annually.


Public education in Dolores County is administered by the Dove Creek School District. There are three schools in the district, including one high school/middle school (5-12) and one elementary school (K-4) in Dove Creek, and one K-12 school in Rico. Approximately 275 students are enrolled in the Dove Creek School District. The student teacher ratio is about 12:1. Approximately 50% of Dolores County students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, significantly above the state average.

Adult Education in Dolores and Montezuma Counties is administered through the Unlimited Learning Center (ULC) in Cortez. ULC offer GED preparation and workforce training. Through a partnership with Utah State University-Eastern adult learners can also obtain certificate and degree programs that span from Associate’s through Master’s and Ph.D. degrees.

Health Services

The Community Health Clinic located in Dove Creek is the only primary care health service provider in Dolores County. Medical, oral health and integrated behavioral health services are all provided from this single location. Comprehensive services include: diagnostic lab and x-ray, pharmacy and developmental screenings. Current provider staffing includes: .60 FTE M.D., .60 FTE Physician Assistant, 1.0 FTE Dentist and .75 FTE Hygienist. Patients from three counties within Colorado and one county in Utah are seen at this clinic. The most recent statistics show that 1,402 individual patients received treatment and generated a total of 5,211 encounters within the year.

Community Health Clinic

Community Health Clinic

Nonprofit Organizations in Dolores County

  • Alpine Society
  • Cahone Recreation Hall & Senior Center
  • Community Arts Foundation for Education (CAFÉ)
  • Dolores County 4-H
  • Dolores County Development Corporation and Foundation
  • Dolores County Health Association
  • Dolores County Historical Society
  • Dolores County Senior Services
  • Dove Creek Chamber of Commerce
  • Dove Creek Community Center & Recreation Department
  • Dove Creek Conservation District Service Program
  • Dove Creek Volunteer Ambulance Service
  • Dove Creek Volunteer Fire Department
  • Dove’s Nest Early Care & Education Center
  • Office of Emergency Coordination
  • Pay It Forward Club (PIF)
  • Reaching Out to Community and Kids (ROCK)
  • Rico Historical Society
  • Rico Volunteer Fire Department
  • Students Taking action against Underage Drinking (STUD)

La Plata County is located in Colorado’s southwest corner. It is part of a social and economic unit known as Region 9, which encompasses five counties: ArchuletaDoloresLa PlataMontezuma and San Juan. La Plata County is comprised of 1,083,085 acres (1,692 square miles). Of these acres, 43% are classified as private land, 16% as tribal land (Southern Ute , Mountain Ute), and 41% as state and federal land. The later include the San Juan National Forest and extensive tracts overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.


La Plata County has three incorporated communities: the City of Durango (county seat), the Town of Bayfield and the Town of Ignacio. In 2008, the county’s population was 50,735. It grew to 52,401 in 2012. The Town of Bayfield saw the highest percentage of growth since 2000, while the Town of Ignacio’s population has slowly declined. The Southern Ute Tribal enrollment was 1,445 in 2009, and 1,376 in 2011, with the majority of members living on the reservation. The median income for a La Plata county household is $40,159. The median income for a La Plata county family is $50,446. About 11.70% of the total population, and 6.70% of families, live below the poverty line. In 2013, Region 9 calculated a minimum livable wage of $11.96/hour in Bayfield, $12.10/hour in Durango, and $12.68/hour in Ignacio.


The county seat of Durango was organized in 1881. It became a rail hub due to Durango’s close proximity to the Animas River, and the coal sources needed to process ore from San Juan County mines. In July 1924, the “Million Dollar Highway,” which connects Durango to Silverton, was dedicated. The transportation of gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc then moved from the narrow gauge train to Highway 550. Beginning in the late 1950’s, the Silverton rail line began to carry Durango tourists to enjoy the spectacular scenery. Durango – La Plata County also developed the most extensive air hub in Southwest Colorado. Because of its location, Durango is a tourist crossroads and regional trade center.

The early residents of Bayfield and the Pine River Valley were of the Ute Tribe. Their descendants still live in the area, primarily on the Southern Ute Reservation and in Ignacio. The Pine River Valley was settled by other groups in the late 1800’s. The first cattle were brought into the valley in 1875. The Town of Bayfield was incorporated in 1906. It experienced the tragedies of fire (1902, 1905, 1920, 1946) and floods (1911, two in 1927, 1957). After the 1927 floods, the Vallecito dam was constructed on the Pine River. It also provides recreation and irrigation opportunities. Bayfield currently serves as a bedroom community for the City of Durango. It is the fastest growing municipality in southwestern Colorado.

The early Ignacio area residents were Ute Indians, primarily of the Weeminuche band. Their traditional territory extended west of the continental divide to the Blue Mountains, to the canyon lands of southeast Utah, and north of the San Juan River, which generally marked their boundary with the Navajos. The Ute Reservation boundaries changed with the passing of various treaties. The Ignacio Agency for the Southern Ute Tribe was founded in 1877, amidst a permanent population of Spanish Americans, Navajos, Paiutes, Anglos and Jicarilla Apaches. In 1913, Ignacio was incorporated. It remains a tri-ethnic community, comprised of Southern Ute’s, Hispanics and Anglos, and serves as a supply center for the surrounding reservation and ranches.
Ignacio is also a crossroads for the gas and oil industry.

The Southern Ute Tribal headquarters is located just north of the Ignacio town limits, and provides administration and services to tribal members. The reservation includes 750,000 acres, seven major rivers and Navajo State Park. The Tribe recently purchased 681 acres near Durango. It is building the Three Springs housing and commercial center, which will include 2,283 homes and thousands of square feet of commercial and office space.

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is a significant economic engine in La Plata County and the region. The Tribe is one of the largest employers in the county. Their oil and gas operations, Sky Ute Lodge and Casino gaming enterprises, land and housing development and tourism-related businesses bring jobs and income to Tribal and non-Tribal residents. A new casino hotel and convention center opened in 2008. A new museum and cultural center opened in 2012. Natural resources on the reservation include extensive gas reserves, coal, timber, and agriculture. These resources provide a diversified Tribal economic base. Tribal energy resources, particularly natural gas, have played the largest role in the reservation economy over the past decade.


Historically, La Plata County relied upon “traditional west” commodities such as minerals, cattle and timber. Since the 1970’s, La Plata County transitioned from a traditional rural county to a more urban environment. Tourism is now the number one industry.  The natural environment, and the amenities it provides, are behind much of the growth and are the region’s chief economic asset. Although there is a relatively low unemployment rate (5.2% in 2013), wages and employment are highly dependent on low paying retail and service sector jobs, which are driven primarily by the tourist and resort industry.
A 2008 analysis of the base industries in the county emphasized the health and diversity of the La Plata County economy. Important industries identified by the study are: construction (21%); retirees and other households receiving non-job income (19%); tourism and travel (15%); regional services such as utility companies and airports (13%); agriculture, mining, utilities and manufacturing (11%); federal, state and tribal government (9%); and Ft. Lewis College (5%). Second homes account for 7% of base industry jobs, primarily in construction and real estate.


According to the La Plata County Housing Authority’s 2013 report, La Plata County had 25,860 housing units in 2010. Approximately 3,000 of these were seasonal units. In 2011, the median price of a single family residential home in Durango was $363,040; in Bayfield was $255,224; and in Ignacio was $111,070.


Transportation is a prominent La Plata County issue. Residents, the county, and area municipalities all recognize that increasing numbers of people are commuting longer and longer distances to work. Durango is the central point for work and shopping, with the majority of commuters traveling in from Bayfield and Mancos. The county’s greatest growth area is expected to be in the Three Springs-Grandview area, which will increase local traffic. Currently, the average travel time between downtown Durango and Grandview is 15 minutes. The same trip is projected to take 24 minutes in 2030.

The City of Durango and La Plata County have completed the 2030 Transportation Integrated Plan (TRIP) report, a regional guide for investment and policy decisions to meet future transportation needs. The 2030 TRIP report considered all transportation modes, from motorized vehicles and public transportation, to bicycling and walking. It looked at intersection improvements, transit systems and the acquisition of right of ways for future transit. The Smart 160 group hopes to expand the trail systems between Durango and Bayfield, while another group is looking at a future light rail between the two communities. The City of Durango constructed a transit center to provide a central hub for the Ignacio Roadrunner, Durango Transit and other community bus service connecting to and from Durango. The Southern Ute Community Action Programs (SUCAP) offers fixed route and demand-responsive transportation services to the Southern Ute Tribal community, and residents of Ignacio. Their service area has expanded to offer daily routes between Bayfield and Durango.


La Plata County offers many educational opportunities, from pre-school Head Start Programs to long-distance master’s degree programs offered by Alamosa State College, the University of Colorado, Denver University, and more. La Plata County supports three K-12 public school districts: Bayfield School DistrictDurango School District and the Ignacio School District. A number of private schools are located in the county as well, including Saint Columba Catholic School and Timberline Academy, as well as Animas High School and Mountain Middle School. Adult education programs are also offered: GED preparation classes, basic reading classes, ESL classes, computer skills classes, finance, and adult enrichment classes. Fort Lewis College is the region’s only four-year college. Its general education program is founded upon the principles of the liberal arts. The college offers more than 30 degree and certification programs. Southwest Colorado Community College, the result of the recent merger between Pueblo Community College’s Durango campus and San Juan Basin Vocational Technical School, offers pre-college and college classes as well as technical certification classes.

Health Care

La Plata County, Mercy Medical Center, the City of Durango and several private practices established a Health Services Clinic in 2007. The clinic is seeking federal designation as a Rural Health Clinic to obtain higher Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates. Durango High School established a school-based health clinic in late 2007. It treated more than 1,500 students its first full year in operation. The San Juan Basin Health Department serves La Plata County and provides a number of direct services: prenatal care, Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program administration, new parent home visits, elderly home-health services, and preventive care programs such as smoking cessation and healthy heart screenings. Axis Health Systems offers mental health and substance abuse services in stand-alone clinics, and works closely with the two school health centers and Mercy’s Health Services Clinic. Animas Surgical Hospital opened in 2004 and has a big presence in the community. It specializes in surgeries, 24/7 short-wait emergency care, diagnostic imaging, occupational medicine and internal medicine.


“Quality of life” is the phrase that best describes Montezuma County and what draws people to the area. Tucked in the southwest corner of Colorado, it is rich with ancient Puebloan history, agricultural roots and numerous recreational opportunities. Montezuma County is home to approximately 25,407 people. The county itself is comprised of 2,084 square miles. Of these lands, 30% are private, 33% are tribal (Ute Mountain Ute), and 37% are state and federal lands. There are three incorporated municipalities in Montezuma County: Cortez, Dolores and Mancos. There are also a large number of unincorporated communities, including: Towaoc, Lewis, Arriola, Mesa Verde, Lebanon, Stoner, Weber and Battle Rock.

The county is made up of snowcapped mountains, evergreen forests, upland plateaus, high desert sage fields, dry land farms and sandstone canyons. The second largest reservoir in Colorado, McPhee Reservoir, is located northwest of Cortez. There are many other large reservoirs, as well as hundreds of private lakes and ponds. Much of the county is irrigated cropland, and produces fruit, large numbers of cattle and sheep, and beans. It is also a wilderness lover’s paradise, and is home to deer, elk, turkeys, bears, grouse, and mountain lions. The environment is a valued resource that is cherished by the community and the many visitors who find their way there.

Montezuma 2

McPhee Resevoir

In addition to the diverse geography and varied ecosystems in Montezuma County, the Four Corners area is renowned for its prehistory. It is home to Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients and Hovenweep National Monuments, and Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. The community is archaeologically rich, with the Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) culture at its heart. Today, the descendents of this ancient culture live further south, but the Ute and Navajo people continue to live in and around Montezuma County. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, pioneers began to settle in the region, raising crops and cattle to serve the mining industry in the San Juan and La Plata Mountains, which run along the eastern border of the county.

Montezuma County service providers support a culturally and demographically diverse population. Multigenerational ranching families are a major community sector. The service industry and government also provide a wide array of employment opportunities. The average household size is decreasing and the average age is increasing, as retirees settle in the community and seek the quiet atmosphere of small towns and country living. Building cross-cultural understanding has been vital to enhancing the quality of life for all Montezuma County residents.


Post recession, Montezuma County data reveals modest variance over the past two years. After seeing a 7.2% growth in population in Montezuma County between 2000 and 2010, the county population currently remains stable at 25,407, showing only a 0.4% decrease from previous years. Although the recent harsh economic climate is reflected in county data, many people continue to call Montezuma County home. They cite the quality of life – clean air and water and outdoor recreation opportunities – as the main determinant. The necessary living wage for a family of four in Montezuma County is $36,171, yet 19.6% of our residents earn at or below the poverty level ($22,048). Of particular community focus is the fact that 26% of our children currently live in poverty. An estimated 8.5% of the county’s labor force was unemployed in 2012, compared to 8.0% statewide.
The service sector employs 36% of Montezuma County workers and represents 29% of the earnings. The service sector is comprised of a variety of job types with different wage scales. Many Montezuma County service jobs support education, health and social assistance. The top county employers include the school district, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and local government.
Mesa Verde Courtesy of Joyce Heuman Kramer
Mesa Verde, Colorado | Photo courtesy of Joyce Heuman Kramer

Health Services

Southwest Health System and their clinics, Southwest Memorial Hospital and several private and independent physician and specialists provide healthcare in Montezuma County. They are dedicated to providing patients, families, and guests with world-class care and service. These providers work collaboratively with patients, other medical providers in the region, and community leaders to achieve excellence in healthcare. This dedication helped earned Southwest Memorial Hospital the designation as a HealthStrong™ Top 100 Critical Access Hospital.

Southwest Memorial Hospital is a state of the art, 25-bed critical access hospital offering the latest in medical and surgical technology, 24/7 emergency care, a vast array of out-patient medical and wellness services, and much more. Serving the Four Corners area, Southwest Memorial Hospital is staffed by almost 400 employees, including highly trained and skilled physicians, nurses, technicians, administrators, and support staff in a variety of capacities. Services include: intensive/critical care, family birthing center, full service laboratory, medical imaging, pharmacy, cardiopulmonary, cardiac rehabilitation, diabetes programming, physical, occupational and speech therapy, an infusion clinic, wound care center and a diagnostic sleep center.

Axis Health Systems, a private nonprofit corporation, provides mental health services, substance abuse treatment and primary care services at the new Cortez Integrated Healthcare clinic. Several long term care facilities provide services in the area. A vast array of additional services exist throughout the community, including chiropractic care, massage therapy, acupuncture, yoga instruction, physical therapy, mind and body counseling and a vast array of alternative therapies. Southwest Health System is also dedicated to the idea of prevention and health care education and support. A network of resources, such as diabetes self-management education, addiction recovery, smoking cessation, cancer and grief support groups are also available within the community.


Montezuma County understands that education is the foundation of a successful and healthy community. The community has demonstrated its commitment to invigorate local education by recent passage of two construction bonds for Cortez and Dolores facility needs, as well as a mill levy override in Mancos to support teacher salary needs. Construction projects are possible due to awards from BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant funding though the state of Colorado. Cortez, Mancos and Dolores each have independent school districts that house a middle school, high school and elementary school (Cortez has five elementary schools). In addition, Cortez has two charter school options: Battlerock School (K-6) and Southwest Open High School. The high school graduation rate is 60.2%, compared to 75.4% statewide. School districts are continually challenged to meet adequate yearly progress and student achievement gaps. Finding effective ways to support families, children and local school districts in order to solve these educational challenges is paramount.

The local community has access to quality post-secondary education at Southwest Colorado Community College (SCCC). The college offers certificate programs and two-year associate’s degree options and provides two campus locations and online programs. The coursework is intended to prepare students for the workforce or for transfer to a public, four-year institution, where they can continue pursuing a higher degree and level of learning. Another option for adult education is the Unlimited Learning Center (ULC) in Cortez. ULC provides easily accessible, lifelong educational and career training opportunities in partnership with Utah State University-San Juan Campus. ULC offers certificated and college credit courses in many different fields through video conferencing and other Internet-supported instruction.

Nonprofit Organizations

Many effective collaborative partnerships exist in Montezuma County, demonstrating the ability of service providing agencies to work in unison toward the creation of a healthier community. The partnerships were formed to ensure that limited community resources are used effectively and that community services are not being duplicated. Broad representation of community stakeholders exists within the collaborations, including: public, private, tribal, nonprofit, community and formal and informal service providers. Nurturing the partnerships has resulted in a foundation for building a strong sense of community between organizations.

    • 4-H Clubs and affiliated organizations
    • Ability Consultants
    • American Legion
    • Blue Star Mother’s of America
    • Christian Discipleship Center
    • Cortez Area Chamber of Commerce
    • Cortez Civitans
    • Cortez Elks
    • Cortez Friends of Dare
    • Cortez Lions
    • Cortez Rotary
    • Cortez Veterans
    • Crow Canyon Archaeological Center
    • Dolores River Boating Advocates
    • Dolores Rotary Foundation
    • First United Methodist Church of Cortez
    • For Pet’s Sake, Inc.
    • Four Corners Character Council
    • Four Corners Child Advocacy Center
    • Four States Agricultural Exposition
    • Habitat for Humanity of Montezuma County
    • Heart to Heart
    • Hospice of Montezuma, Inc.
    • KSJD Community Radio Project
    • Mancos Valley Chamber of Commerce
    • Mesa Verde Country Festivals, Inc.
    • Mesa Verde Museum Association
    • Montelores Early Childhood Council
    • Montezuma Land Conservancy
    • Onward! A Legacy Foundation
    • Renew, Inc.
    • Running Dog Ranch
    • Salvation Army
    • School Community Youth Collaborative
    • Southwest Colorado Concerts
    • The Bridge Emergency Shelter
    • The Children’s Kiva, Inc.
    • The Cortez Cultural Center
    • The Good Samaritan Center
    • The Medicine Horse Center: Therapeutic Riding and Equine Rehabilitation
    • The Pinon Project Family Resource Center
    • The Recovery Center
    • Truckin’ Troubadours for Christ, Inc.
    • Unlimited Learning Center
    • Waldorf Education of Southwest Colorado
    • Wilderness Way Adventures

San Juan County boasts the highest mean elevation in the United States (it surpasses the runner-up by over 2700 feet). Approximately 87-% of its 387 square miles of rugged mountain terrain soar over 10,000 feet above sea level. San Juan County is home to the headwaters of the Animas River, the last free-flowing river in Colorado. It is also Colorado’s most sparsely populated county by size – 1.4 persons per square mile! Since 2000, the population has been slowly yet steadily decreasing. According to a 2009 State Demographers Office estimate, San Juan County lost one person between 2008 and 2009, from 567 to 566. The 2010 Census reported the county population at 699 persons.

Located approximately 50 miles north of Durango, in the southwest quadrant of Colorado, the town of Silverton is nestled in the large caldera known as Baker’s Park. The “Million Dollar Highway,” a small portion of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway, splits the county in an east- west direction, and is considered the most avalanche-prone stretch of highway in the continental United States. The northwest corner of the nearly half million acre Weminuche Wilderness nudges up and comprises the south east quadrant of the county. The Weminuche Wilderness is the largest in the state, more than twice the size of the Flat Top Wilderness, the runner up.
Silverton, Colorado Courtesy of Casey Carroll
Silverton, Colorado | Photo courtesy of Casey Carroll


According to the 2008 Census, the San Juan County population was approximately 87.3-% white, 10.9-% Hispanic and 1.3-% American Indian/Alaska Native, with 20.9-% of the population having income below the poverty level. The San Juan County poverty level is more than twice the state average of 9.3-percent.


Silverton was officially established in 1874, and is the only incorporated town in San Juan County. Once a prospering mining town, Silverton was linked to Durango by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, and later, in July 1924, by the “Million Dollar Highway.” Beginning in the late 1950’s, the rail line, which once carried ore to Durango, began to carry tourists to enjoy the spectacular scenery and heritage of the area. Since 1991, Silverton has been sustained primarily by its seasonal tourism industry, with the scenic narrow gauge railway serving as its’ anchor.


Since the turn of the millennium, a refreshing and optimistic trend has emerged in the county. Silverton’s focus on the “knowledge industry”, innovative business practices, and recreation has been propelled it to new and different heights. Organizations such as KSJC Silverton Community Radio, the Silverton Public School Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound, Silverton Family Learning Center, Animas River Stakeholders Group, Silverton Outdoor Learning and Recreation Center, Mountain Studies Institute, the Silverton Avalanche School (the longest continuously running avalanche education program in the country), and the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies have all found and/or created successful niches and remain healthy, thriving and improving businesses.


The Silverton Public School Expeditionary Learning system has made unprecedented strides over the last eight years, culminating in an $11.8 million grant, which includes a voter-approved $1.2 million bond to refurbish the facility. According to Kim White, Silverton School principal, the school building and curriculum have been overhauled. Since shifting to expeditionary school model in 2003, the Silverton Public School has risen from being classified as the lowest 10-% (District of Concern), to being included in the top 10-% of schools (Accredited with Distinction), statewide. The Silverton Public School heavily promotes community service and prepares students for the workplace with pre-graduate requirements via their “Services Learning” program. All students must complete 80 hours of “real world” workplace experience, whether with the museum-historical society, restaurants, retail or other businesses in the service sector. The school is also proud of their T-3 Philanthropy Club, which recently raised $500 and which was supplemented by larger funders. The funds are then awarded to local nonprofits to support their efforts. Recipients have included the preschool, Durango Mountain Resort Adaptive Sports Program, a theatre group, and the Silverton Standard and the Miner. The operation of the last organization was deeded to the Historical Society and is the oldest continually running newspaper on the Western Slope.

Recreation and Tourism

San Juan County is located in a mountain region that is transitioning from an economy based on mining to one increasingly based upon tourism, recreation, innovative business, cultural heritage, the arts and education. Not immune to the national economic forces, Silverton and San Juan County have seen a decline in various aspects of economic stability. Between 2007 and 2010, sales tax revenues fell 1.6-% (FY2008) and 3.8-% (FY2009), and requests for Medicaid in San Juan County have doubled, as have requests for food stamp assistance. Cash Assistance cases (Colorado Works Program) rose threefold. Real estate sales and building starts have slowed and remain sluggish, with the County Assessor Dan Salazar stating that the incidents of foreclosures did increase in 2010, but have since fallen.

Historically, over 140,000 summer train visitors travel by train to Silverton each year, supplemented by over 500,000 travelers (100,000 of those stay the night) who come to Silverton along the Highway 550 Scenic Skyway for rest, relaxation, shopping, and recreation. However, train ridership has declined over the last five years, with 2009 ridership being the lowest since the Missionary Ridge fire in 2002.

In 2000, with the assistance of the Region 9 Economic Development District, San Juan 2000 prepared a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for San Juan County. Since 2000, the San Juan 2000 board, staff, and community have implemented the strategy and secured resources for economic development and diversification projects built on these community assets: the citizens, mining, heritage, and high altitude setting.

Innovative business practices have been flourishing. Silverton Mountain ski area has been patiently operating and received quite an exposure boost with the 2010 Winter Olympics. Other new and progressive small businesses include Venture Snowboards and ScottyBob Custom Skis.

Healthcare Access

Neither Silverton nor San Juan County has advanced primary health care facilities. The Silverton clinic is staffed once a week by a local physician and his wife, and nurse, They provide general health care for the community. The San Juan County Public Health Service provides nursing health care, and is active with youth and public health related campaigns. Mercy Medical Center in Durango staffs the clinic at Durango Mountain Resort year-round. That clinic is located approximately 25 miles south of Silverton. The nearest definitive care is in Durango at Mercy Medical Center (Level 3 Trauma) or Montrose Memorial Hospital (Level 4 Trauma). San Juan County does maintain an EMS system, at the paramedic level, that provides 24-hour emergency coverage.

Silverton prides itself on nurturing its youth and providing safe and enriching alternatives to drugs, alcohol, and violence, which can be prevalent in small communities. The Silverton Youth Center, run by the Public Health Service, provides a safe youth environment that encourages positive decision making, collaboration, and lifelong creativity.

Nonprofits of San Juan County

  • SOLRC Foundation
  • Silverton Volunteer Fire Department
  • Silverton San Juan County Ambulance Association
  • Silverton Gunfighters Association
  • Silverton Community Radio
  • Silverton Arts Council
  • San Juan County Search and Rescue/Silverton Avalanche School
  • San Juan County Historical Society
  • San Juan Development Association
  • Mountain Studies Institute San Juan Mountains
  • Friends of the Silverton Public Library
  • Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies
  • A Theatre Group Silverton

Spotlight on the Southwest 2014

2015 Southwest Colorado Index

The Index takes a comprehensive look at specific topics in order to measure the overall economic, social and environmental health of the communities in Region 9.  Previously called the Pathways to Healthier Communities Indicator Report, it was first published by Operation Healthy Communities Inc. (OHC) in 1996.  After OHC produced five editions of the Indicator Report, the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado took over publication in 2008. The 2015 edition of the Index is provided courtesy of community sponsors. This first report has been sponsored by the Region 9 Economic Development District and the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado.

Additional Resources

For more information, please contact:

Leah Rausch, Director of Rural Partnerships
303.623.1540 X170 or email hidden; JavaScript is required