The historic McElmo Flume is set to get a final makeover, thanks to a $180,000 grant awarded this month to Montezuma County from the Colorado State Historical Society.
“It is the last piece of the preservation process that will tell the story of water history in the county,” said flume advocate Linda Towle.
A recently constructed interpretive pullout off U.S. Highway 160 east of Cortez showcases the wooden irrigation flume, which was built in the 1890s to deliver water to the Ute Mountain tribe and pioneer farms.
The restoration grant requires a $60,000 match, and a fundraising effort is underway. Once that is raised, the flume’s main wooden trough structure will restored, completing the multiyear project.
“Right now, people will stop at the interpretive pull-off and see that the flume needs repair, and that is what this grant will be paying for,” Towle said, adding that as much original wood as possible will be used in the restoration.
Repairing the foundation was the priority. In 2014, a $123,000 state historical grant was awarded to the county to rebuild the foundation and stabilize the structure to withstand flows in McElmo Creek. That foundation work was completed in February.
The paved highway pullout, parking lot, interpretive panels, information, kiosk, sidewalk and flume overlook were made possible by $250,000 in funding allocated by the National Scenic Byways Program in 2013.
The historic flume is an agricultural artifact that symbolizes the beginning of the city of Cortez and surrounding communities, Towle said.
“Cortez would not be here without these first irrigation systems,” she said. “It is important for visitors coming through to learn the story about how the efforts of early farmers and ranchers grew the town and got us to where we are today.”
Final interpretive panels on water history are still being created for the flume overlook. Also a regional tourism map will be installed at the kiosk highlighting local attractions.
Throughout the project, contributions have been made by many agencies and organizations, including Montezuma County, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Southwest Roundtable, Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company, Dolores Water Conservancy District, and the Ute Mountain Tribe.
The Colorado State Historical grants awarded for the project are derived from a portion of gambling revenues in Cripple Creek, Central City, and Black Hawk.