Our Communities

“Spotlight on the Region” video from 2015 San Luis Valley Rural Philanthropy Days conference in Creede, CO.

Learn more about the six counties of the San Luis Valley Region

Alamosa County

History and Geography

Alamosa means “cottonwood grove” and was originally given to a creek within the County by Spanish pioneers. The name was next given to the City and finally to the County itself.  Alamosa County was formally carved from the northern portions of Conejos and Costilla counties in 1913. The County has a total area of 723 square miles with only about one square mile of this land area as water. Alamosa County is located in south central Colorado at an average elevation of 7,544 feet. County development was originally influenced in the late 19th century by mining, agriculture, and timber harvesting. Alamosa became a major commerce hub of the San Luis Valley.

The Rio Grande National Forest, and ample recreation opportunities associated with the San Luis Valley, have been attracting new residents and visitors for nearly a century. The Rio Grande National Forest first came under government control in 1891 and the Great Sand Dunes National Monument was originally established by Herbert Hoover in 1932. On November 22, 2000 Congress passed the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, which authorized the expansion of the national monument into a national park almost four times its original size. As part of the Act of 2000 roughly 42,000 acres of national forest wilderness area were immediately transferred to National Park Service (NPS) management, and were renamed the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. The San Luis Lakes State Park also offers outstanding outdoor recreation on the valley floor.

Demographics

In 2013, there were 16,253 residents in Alamosa County, nearly half of whom lived in the City of Alamosa. The County’s Hispanic/Latino heritage is reflected in the large number of individuals identifying themselves as members of this group in the 2013 U.S. Census: 45.4 percent of the County population and 45.6 percent of the City population. In 2013 Alamosa County’s population was divided 50/50 by male/female genders and the County had a Veteran population of 1,121.

The rural areas of the County are dominated by single-family housing units, including mobile homes. Conversely, most multi-family structures are located in the urban areas of Alamosa and east Alamosa. According to the 2012 Census, there were 5,891 occupied housing units in the county at that time with 55.1 percent being occupied by their owners and the remaining 34.5 percent occupied by renters. The median value for owner-occupied housing units at this time was $137,300 compared to $236,200 for the state of Colorado, and the average number of persons per household was 2.51. In 2013 residents traveled approximately 15 minutes to work each day compared to the rest of Colorado who traveled about 24.5 minutes.

Economy

The Alamosa area is a regional service hub and provides a variety of shopping and other professional services to many residents in surrounding towns and counties. There were 187 non-farm establishments in 2012 that employed 6,452 residents. 19.4 percent of these businesses were owned by Hispanic individuals (almost 3 times more than the rest of Colorado) and 25.4 percent were owned by women, according to the 2007 Census. The main employment sectors in the County include government, education and health services, and regional and national services. Despite being an economic hub for the San Luis Valley, per capita income is $19,487, and approximately 26.5 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line. 32.6 percent of children in Alamosa County live below the poverty line compared to 18.1 percent, Colorado’s state average. The unemployment rate In the County is 11.5 percent compared to 4.0 percent in the rest of the state. Approximately 19.1 percent of the population receives SNAP benefits.

Education

Public schools in Alamosa County are primarily served by two districts: Alamosa RE-11J and Sangre De Cristo RE-22J. In 2013 the county enrolled 2,388 students in grades K-12. Alamosa County is home to Adams State University, founded in 1921, a bachelor and master degree-granting college, as well as Trinidad State Junior College-Valley Campus. The two colleges add over 4,500 additional individuals to the County population. In 2013 approximately 83.1 percent of the population had received a high school diploma while only 24.2 percent had received a Bachelor’s degree from a university or college.

Conejos County

History and Geography

Conejos County has an area of 1,287 square miles. The nearly level valley floor, with an average elevation of about 7,700 feet, characterizes the eastern portion of the County while the stunning San Juan Mountains, rising to a height of over 13,000 feet, characterize the western portion. Conejos County is bound by the Rio Grande River to the east and the State of New Mexico to the south. Sixty-seven percent of the County is public land, including the mountainous areas of the Rio Grande National Forest. Small towns and vast pasturelands characterize the remaining 33 percent of privately owned land. The County has five municipalities: Manassa, La Jara, Antonito, Sanford, and Romeo. As in all agricultural areas of the West, water is the lifeblood of the community. In addition to the Rio Grande, the County is traversed by the Conejos, Alamosa, and San Antonio Rivers, and La Jara Creek.

Conejos County was one of the original 17 counties created by the Colorado legislature in 1861. Although it was first called Guadalupe County, it was renamed Conejos, the Spanish word for “rabbits”. Rural Conejos County is home to many important historical sites. The town of Antonito boasts the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, a narrow gauge steam engine railroad constructed in 1880 that makes the daily trek from Antonito to Chama, New Mexico during the summer and fall. Northeast of the town of Sanford is Pikes Stockade, the site where Zebulon Pike raised the American flag in 1807 over what was then Spanish Territory. The stockade was reconstructed using Pike’s journal and is maintained by the Colorado Historic Society. Conejos, the County seat, is also home to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Parish, the oldest parish church in Colorado. The community of Manassa hosts Pioneer Days each July, an event that celebrates the arrival of Mormon pioneers.

The many towns of Conejos County include: the Town of Antonito, Bear Creek, Bountiful, Cañon, Capulin, Carmel, Conejos, Elk Creek, Fox Creek, Guadalupe, Horca, La Florida, Town of La Jara, La Sauses, Las Mesitas, Lobatos, Town of Manassa, Mogote, Ortiz, Osier, Platoro, Richfield, Rincones, Town of Romeo, San Antonio, Town of Sanford, and Sheep Creek.

Demographics

In 2013, Conejos County’s population was 8,256 with a Hispanic majority of 55.0 percent. Population density is only six people per square mile and in reality is less than that with the majority of the population being concentrated into many town centers. This gives residents the freedom to connect with nature and appreciate their land. There were 4,272 housing units in the County in 2013; 56.1 percent were owner occupied and the remaining 16.4 percent were rented. The median value for owner-occupied housing units at this time was $109,700 compared to $236,200 for the state of Colorado, and the average number of persons per household was 2.64. In 2013 residents traveled approximately 24.3 minutes to work each day, about the same as Colorado’s state average travel time.

Economy

Residents of Conejos County enjoy an authentic rural way of life that is rapidly disappearing in our modern world. Part of the charm of this area is the history and the lasting ties that many of its residents have to this land. Agriculture has been a very important part of the economy and rural lifestyle from the earliest settlers until the present time, comprising the majority of the County’s workforce.  Tourism is the second largest industry and visitors as drawn to the beautiful scenery and year round outdoor recreation opportunities. Excursions on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad are major attractions during the summer and fall months. In addition, with open space, irrigable land, ample sunshine, and intermittent wind, the County is expected to become a major player in the development of renewable energy resources in the future. In 2013, however, per capita income was only $17,316 compared to Colorado’s state average of $31,109 and 19.4 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line. Approximately 19.5 percent of the population receives SNAP benefits.

Education

Little Treasures Pre-School in La Jara and Rocky Mountain SER/Headstart in Conejos and Sanford serve the preschool age children of the county. Three public school districts provide quality education through four elementary schools, three middle schools, and three high schools. There were 1,601 students enrolled in these schools in grades K-12 in 2013. In 2013 approximately 93.0percent of the population had received a high school diploma while only 19.1 percent had received a Bachelor’s degree from a university or college.

Costilla County

History and Geography

Costilla County was the first area of the State of Colorado to be colonized with recorded historydating back to 1540, the year Coronado explored the Southwest. Costilla County has a few larger towns: San Luis, Fort Garland, and Blanca, and the smaller communities of Chama, San Pedro, Los Fuertes, Garcia, Jaroso, San Francisco, San Acacio, and Mesita, all of which were established shortly after 1851. The Town of San Luis hosts the Shrine of the Stations of the Cross. The shrine represents the last hour of Christ’s life to his resurrection. Every year, hundreds of people set out on a pilgrimage to the shrine and thousands more come to pray and bring peace to themselves. The town is also home to Colorado’s oldest business, R&R Supermarket established in 1857 and the Sangre de Cristo Parish Hall built in 1886. The museum in Fort Garland, built in 1858, was once a fort commanded by Kit Carson. Carson had orders from the government to keep peace in the San Luis Valley; therefore no battles were ever fought on fort grounds. On Memorial Day weekend, Fort Garland is host to a festival of re-enactments, stories, songs, and dances depicting the cultures and occupations indigenous to Costilla County.

The land area of the county is 1,227 square miles with only a sliver of the Rio Grande National Forest on its eastern border available as public lands. The skyline is dominated by Blanca Peak that stands at 14,345ft. Other natural attractions include Eastdale Reservoir, Sanchez Reservoir, Smith Reservoir, and Mount Home Lake. All are excellent for fishing and boating. Wildlife is abundant and can be seen grazing among the livestock.

Demographics

In 2013, Costilla County’s population was 3,518, with a Hispanic population rate of 65.1 percent. The County had a veteran population of 445. Costilla is one of the least populated of the 64 counties in the State of Colorado. The median value of owner-occupied housing units is just $93,800, but the home ownership rate in 2013 was 79.6% compared to Colorado’s state average of 65.4%.

Economy

Representing one of the highest rates of poverty in the San Luis Valley, 22.2 percent of residents and a heart-crushing 38.9 percent of children lived below the national poverty line in 2013. Per capita income is only $16,148 annually and 48 percent of housing units are vacant. 21.2 percent of the population receive SNAP benefits. The local economy relies heavily on tourism and government for employment opportunities followed by work in the agricultural sector. Ranching and farming are conducted on vast land grants and do not often require large numbers of workers to manage livestock herds.

Education

K-12 education in Costilla County is provided by two districts: Centennial R-1 and Sierra Grande R-30. In 2013, there were 281 students enrolled in grades K-12. Both schools have been identified by the Colorado Department of Education for Priority Improvement Plans. Sierra Grande hosts many regional tournaments and activities in their Recreation Center, complete with full-size swimming pool, weight room, cafeteria and gym. Costilla County does not have any adult education facilities, although Adams State College and the San Luis Valley Vo-Tech Center are located in nearby Alamosa. The nearest community college is Trinidad State Junior College in Alamosa.

Mineral County

History and Geography

Mineral County, founded in 1893, is the third least populous county in the State of Colorado, and features 93.7 percent of its 876 square miles as public lands. Residents and visitors find untouched mountain scenery, abundant opportunities for hiking, camping, skiing, fishing, and hunting, and remote mines and ghost towns to explore. The City of Creede is the only town in Mineral County. Established in 1892, Creede’s history and economy were built on silver mining and tourism. For a century, mining camps at the headwaters of the Rio Grande and its tributaries pumped millions of dollars into Colorado’s economy. In 1985, when the price of silver dropped again, the last mine, the Homestake, closed permanently. Today Mineral County is returning to its tourism roots. Creede, the little mining camp that refused to die, shares not only its beautiful natural setting, but also its colorful heritage with thousands of visitors every year. Art galleries, shopping, fine dining, historical tours, and the Creede Repertory Theatre attract tourists year round. The tenacious spirit of the locals and the versatility of the community have enabled Creede to thrive at 8500 feet for over 110 years.

Demographics

Approximately 721 people called Mineral County home in 2013, roughly a third of who live in the City of Creede. Unlike the rest of the San Luis Valley, only 2.9 percent of the population identify as Hispanic/ Latino. There are an estimated 1,264 housing units in the County, 68.9 percent of which are vacant. This high level of vacancies can be attributed to the seasonal economy, harsh winter climate, and lack of jobs. The County had a Veteran population of 111 in 2013.

Economy

Since the last silver mine closed in 1985, the primary economy has been tourism, with housing construction and various government jobs filling the other top payroll slots. In the mid-1960’s, a group of enthusiastic drama students from Kansas University, aided by the Creede JayCees, initiated a summer repertory theater program that has developed into the nationally recognized Creede Repertory Theatre, a major attraction that brings tourists to Creede from throughout the United States. Employment is highly seasonal. Local wage scales are lower than many other areas, but with a per capita income of $42,255 in 2013, substantially higher than Colorado’s state average of $31,109. Mineral County ranks far above other San Luis Valley counties for wealth. With limited private land, the residential market, especially rentals, is tight. The median value of owner occupied housing units in 2013 was $275,000. While real estate prices are climbing, they are still very reasonable compared to many other Rocky Mountain markets. Residential development and home building are “major” activities.

Education

Located at an altitude of 8,852 feet, the Creede School District serves a small community. Silver mining was the industry that created Creede and, consequently, the high school mascot became the Miner. Several one-room school houses were scattered in the surrounding mountains at the turn of the century. Over time, they banded together to form one consolidated district. Class sizes have remained small providing a quality education for all of its students. In 2013 there were only about 80 students enrolled in grades K-12. Today, the Creede School District stands among the highest performing districts in the region on state academic assessments. In 2013, 100 percent of the population had received a high school diploma while 39.3 percent received a Bachelor’s degree from a college or university.

Rio Grande County

History and Geography

Named for the river that flows through the county, Rio Grande County is one of the highlights of the San Luis Valley. Between 1829 and 1848, the Old Spanish Trail, a section of which crosses Rio Grande County, was a major trade route linking New Mexico and California. The trail evolved from ancient Native American trade routes, some of which were in use for nearly 1,000 years. In 1846, Rio Grande County became a territorial possession of the United States. In 1870, gold was discovered at Summitville, and the following year Del Norte was platted. Del Norte was incorporated in 1872 and became the county seat in 1874 when Rio Grande County was created. The narrow gauge train was extended from Alamosa to Del Norte in 1878. In 1882, the original town site at the current location of Monte Vista was platted, and was called Lariat. The town was renamed Monte Vista in 1886 when it was incorporated. In the late 1890’s the State of Colorado established an experimental farm in Monte Vista, and in 1897, the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Home, now the Colorado State Veteran’s Center, was established. The Ski Hi Stampede, the oldest continuous rodeo in Colorado, began in 1897 in Monte Vista. With the influence of the railroad, the area flourished as a center for agriculture, ranching, and mining throughout the 1900’s. South Fork developed as an area of timber production and tourism.

As the gateway to the San Juan Mountains, the county covers 912 square miles ranging from approximately 7,000 feet to several 13,000-foot peaks. There are three municipalities within the county: Monte Vista, Del Norte, and South Fork. All of these municipalities have been historically developed along the rail line that follows the Rio Grande River. Monte Vista is the county’s largest community. “Monte”, as most people call it, is the center of the agricultural aspect of the county. There are numerous festivals, events, and clubs that take place in and around Monte Vista, and the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge is a stop for migratory Sand Hill Cranes every year. Del Norte is a quaint town with a focus on its historic past; it is the county seat, home to the Rio Grande County Museum, and maintains a historic façade in its main street. The newest town in the County is South Fork, which is surrounded by the Rio Grande National Forest and other public lands, and has easy access to Wolf Creek Ski Area. Developed as a logging center, it has become a gem of the Valley with a booming housing market, world class 18 hole golf course, and the distinction of being the “Gateway to the Silver Thread” scenic byway. A portion of the agricultural Town of Center also lies in Rio Grande County.

Demographics

The 2013 population of Rio Grande County was 11,803 with Hispanic/Latinos representing 43.4 percent. There are approximately 6,620 housing units in the County, with just over 4,700 occupied. Approximately 48.0 percent of the occupied housing units in the county are owner-occupied. There are three times as many seasonal homes in Rio Grande County as in the State (12.7 percent to 4.0 percent).  In 2013 the County had a Veteran population of 1,000.

Economy

Historically, the county’s economy was heavily dependent upon agriculture but has diversified over time. Now, almost one in five jobs are in the education sector, with the second highest number of jobs in the retail sector, followed by tourism and regional and national services. With a per capita income of $20,557 Rio Grande County is one of the more economically stable counties in the San Luis Valley. In 2013, 19.2 percent of the population and 32.3 percent of children lived below the poverty line. The median value of owner-occupied homes was about $129,500 and the home ownership rate was at 73.3 percent, right around Colorado’s state average.

Education

Rio Grande County has three public school districts: Monte Vista C-8, Del Norte C-7, and Sargent RE-33-J. In 2013 there were 2,063 students enrolled in grades K-12. Private schools are limited to St. Peter’s Lutheran School in Monte Vista, which offers education for preschool through fifth grade students. The HeadStart Program is popular for younger grade school and Pre-K students. In 2013, 77.5% of residents received a high school diploma while 20.3 percent had achieved their Bachelor’s degree.

Saguache County

History and Geography

Saguache County’s past and present are as diverse as the great expanse that it occupies. Its natural geography made it a crossroads and settlement area for Ute and other Natives Tribes, explorers, fur trappers, miners, and settlers. Saguache County was officially founded in 1866. In the Ute language the word Saguache means, “water at the blue earth.”

By the 1870’s, gold, silver and other large mineral deposits were discovered in the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountain ranges. By the 1930’s, mining and railways were replaced with farming and ranching. Saguache County continues its agricultural heritage today despite the challenges of receiving less than seven inches of precipitation per year. This 3,170 square mile high altitude desert is home to more than 75 percent public land, including national forests, wildlife areas and refuges, national park, and wilderness areas.

The County is comprised of the Towns of Saguache, Moffat, Center, Crestone, Bonanza, and the unincorporated areas of Sargents, La Garita, and Villa Grove.

Demographics

In 2010, Saguache County’s population numbered approximately 7000 people, with 53 percent living in the unincorporated areas. This represents full-time residents, however, many people are drawn to the County for seasonal activities increasing the population and the need for services. Population has grown about 11 percent since the year 2000. The largest minority group is Hispanic/Latino, which represents about 34 percent of the population.

Economy

Statistically, Saguache County has been one of the most economically challenged counties in Colorado for decades. Economic growth is the concern Saguache County residents express most in planning processes. There is a clear need for activities that can ensure economic stability for residents while remaining consistent with the core community values of preserving open space and wildlife habitat.

The local economy is based on the traditional industries of ranching and farming that now struggle to provide a sustainable economic engine. The following industries rank in order of income importance to Saguache County: agriculture (38.1 percent), retirees (15.2 percent), commuters (10.5 percent), public assistance (8.1 percent), tourism (7 percent), indirect (6.9 percent), government (5.7 percent), and manufacturing (2.8 percent).

In the year 2000, the median household price was $73,900 and median household income was $25,495. While income increased 18.4 percent, the cost of housing increased nearly 90 percent, which indicates that home ownership is less affordable for full-time residents now than it was just a few years ago. This is reflected by the estimated per capita income of $18,284 as compared to $29,133 for the State of Colorado. Saguache County taxes, land-values, and costs of goods and services remain some of the lowest you can find in this and surrounding states.

Education

Saguache County is home to three school districts: Center Consolidated D26JT, Mountain Valley Consolidated RE1, and Moffat Consolidated D2 that includes the Crestone Charter School. During the 2010-2011 school year, 580, 120 and 206 students were enrolled respectively. Each district has experienced enrollment decline over the past 10 years and continue to face increasing challenges due to state education budget cuts. Center and Mountain Valley Schools have been identified by the Colorado Department of Education as districts in need of Priority Improvement Plans. It is not uncommon for Saguache County families to send children to larger school districts as far as Alamosa or Salida, which are both more than 50 miles away.

For more information, please contact:

Kim Smoyer, Event Coordinator
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