It's Where We Live
The North Fork Valley includes the towns of Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford-as well as the surrounding mesas. It’s named in recognition of the North Fork of the Gunnison River, which runs east-west through the valley from the mountains to the east of Paonia to the ‘dobie’ deserts west of Hotchkiss.
The physical setting of the Valley – tucked between the West Elk Mountains to the east, the Grand Mesa to the North and the canyons and high desert of the south and west portions of the county make this a distinct sliver of paradise and one with its own identity.
A longtime home to the Ute Indian people, the first Anglo settlers of the valley immediately recognized its agricultural promise. With its potential for irrigation, rich bottomlands and mild climate, they set about planting extensive orchards. The first fruit trees were planted in the early 1880’s and by the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair, Paonia fruit was already winning top prizes.
While much has changed in the past 130+ years, the importance of “the land” remains a constant. As with the early settlers, those pursuing agriculture today pay close attention to what best “fits” the land…the determining factor, often being altitude, soil quality, terrain and the availability of irrigation water.
Since the 1880’s, agriculture and animal husbandry have been not only a means of making a living, but have become an important part of the communities identity. While cattle and sheep still dominate, some diversification is taking place into Buffalo and Elk. Along with the expansions in livestock ranching, there’s been a strong trend in crop and fruit farming towards “organic” methods. Early settlers would be surprised to see the quickly growing local wine and organic fruit & vegetable operations. Though the changes in agriculture are significant, the spirit of creativity and determination remain strong in the valley. A proud tribute to our predecessors!