The Paonia Ranger District

Aug 26, 2015 by     No Comments    Posted under: Public Lands

Local Info on your Public Lands

First-hand information about the National Forest can be found at the Paonia Ranger District office on Rio Grande Avenue in Paonia.  Interact with knowledgeable staff or pick up a map or brochure that will provide insight to the best camping locales, trails and more.

The Paonia Ranger District is comprised of 478,000 acres of some of the most beautiful land in Colorado. Formally part of Battlement Reserves, the District is now home to the larger Gunnison National Forest, almost a quarter million acres of which are designated as Wilderness.  CIMG4466

Within the Paonia Ranger District there are three main campgrounds, 277 miles of horseback and hiking trails, and 344 different species of wildlife and fish.  Trails can be explored on your own or with one of the 15 outfitters that operate under permit.  Embark on a hunting expedition or a leisurely hike while learning about the local flora and fauna.

If you’re looking for a rather rugged evening in the woods under the starry sky distant from the noise of fellow campers, you’re in luck! Dispersed camping is allowed in the Gunnison National Forest.  There are also developed campgrounds within the Paonia Ranger District, including McClure Pass, Erickson Springs and Lost Lake.  All three of these campgrounds are gateways to some of the best hiking in the area, and offer some of the most spectacular views.  McClure Pass is perhaps the most rustic of the three and requires no fee; just a pack it in pack it out philosophy, whereas Lost Lake and Erickson Springs are equipped with treated water and trailer access.   The Paonia District manages portions of two Wilderness Areas – The West Elk Wilderness Area and the Raggeds Wilderness Area.   Lost Lake

As part of the Forest Service, the Paonia Ranger District has a strong emphasis on managing wildlife and fisheries habitat while the state manages the wildlife itself.  The Forest Service recognizes the wide range of habitat needs for wildlife and fisheries and does their best to maintain an ideal living space.  For example, there are 55 threatened or endangered plants that some wildlife and fish depend on, which require vegetation management on the Forest Service’s part.  A grazing program is also implemented through the Forest Service, as a part of its original mandate and mission, where in the Forest Service manages the number of livestock to better ensure healthy and sustained productivity of the range.

Somewhat unique to the Paonia Ranger District is the high quantity of energy resources.  Coalmining has been a feature in the valley since the early 1900s, and has supported many area families over the years. Today, there are approximately 14,000 acres of coal leases, and two mines operating in the valley.  There are also over 85,000 acres of existing oil and gas leases, with 16 wells already operating, on the National Forest, primarily in the Muddy Creek area in the upper North Fork, and north of Somerset.DSCF2632

The Paonia Ranger District also does a lot of community outreach. They offer a number of conservation education programs covering topics, such as mining, minerals and wildlife biology, as well as high school internships.  Additionally, there is a Youth Conservation Corps for kids ages 15-18 who are considering a career with the Forest Service, in which they learn about natural resources, trail building and teamwork.  The Forest Service also always has a presence at the major town events including the Cherry Days parade.


“Where conflicting interests must be reconciled, the question shall always be answered from the standpoint of the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.”

Gifford Pinchot

GPportrait_cuThe Paonia Ranger District and the broader Forest Service represent much of what I feel the North Fork Valley finds of value: clean, healthy water, wildlife, recreation and people.  And while it has a long history here in the valley, its mission really looks to the future.  Protecting the forest and its precious resources is of utmost importance even as it also provides resources and multiple public uses in a sustained and sustainable manner.

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