Montezuma County is being asked to apply for a Colorado State Historic Fund grant of $122,700 to repair and stabilize the historic McElmo Flume.
Built in the 1880s, the flume was a marvel of engineering, delivering water to Towaoc and area ranches. It operated until 1992, but was replaced by the concrete canals of the McPhee Project and has since fallen into disrepair.
But buffing it up is seen as good for tourism and also for preserving history.
When driving through towns while on vacation, people look for pullouts featuring historic landmarks, interpretive sites and viewpoints.
The McElmo Flume, off of U.S. Highway 160 near the fairgrounds, has that potential. The Colorado Department of Transportation sees its value.
CDOT has committed to constructing a paved pullout and parking lot at the flume. The $250,000 project is being paid for by the National Scenic Byway Program as part of the Trails of the Ancients tourism loop. The interpretive site will feature a sidewalk to a viewpoint overlooking the flume and may go in next summer. Stone walls, education panels and an informational kiosk also will be built.
“But as it is right now when people walk to the overlook it is not much too look at, so we are seeking funding to restore and stabilize this piece of local history long term,” said Linda Towle, a historic site advocate and volunteer. “It reverted back to county ownership, so they must be the grant applicant for the restoration.”
The county agreed on Monday, Sept. 16 to chip in $2,500 toward the renovation. The grant-application deadline for the $122,700 to repair the foundation and steel supports is Oct. 1.
Giving visitors a chance to slow down, pull over and learn of the region’s innovative past is good for tourism and shows respect for previous generations, Towle said.
“It was the first water source to Towaoc, and shows a lot of ingenuity. It needs stabilization or it will fall over,” she said. “Everyone wants the top fixed, but we have to fix the bottom structure first so it will stay standing permanently.”
The Colorado State Historic Fund grant for foundation and structural repairs requires a 25 percent match of $40,900. Towle said a potential source for the match is the Southwest Colorado Water Conservation District, which has its own grant program.
“They encouraged us to apply for a grant covering a portion or all of the match. So we are in the process of writing up that proposal and must have it in by September 20,” she said.
Interpretive panels would explain the flume and surrounding history. The commissioners said information about local attractions such as the shooting range, fairgrounds, race track and Phil’s World biking trails need to be included at the site.
“It seems like it would be an economic benefit to Cortez and the county,” said county commissioner Keenan Ertel.
Susan Thomas, Trails of the Ancients Byways coordinator, added, “The interpretive part will be fun, working with local families, the Utes and ranchers and water experts about the flume’s history and how important it was.”
The flume’s decrepit state qualifies it as one of the state’s most endangered places, making it a good candidate for grants. And the pullout is in an ideal location for visitors traveling between Cortez and Mesa Verde National Park.
“When they stop, they can read about all the other activities they might want to do. It’s one more place to stop to showcase what we offer,” said Towle said.
Additional fundraising needs to happen for the first phase. The CDOT project is contingent on a $63,000 match of goods and services and/or cash, which Towle hopes to raise by summer 2014 in order for CDOT to begin construction of the paved pullout and overlook.
Stabilizing the structure is the goal of the current round of funding. A later, second phase of the project involves fixing and restoring the top half of the flume that will be viewed at the overlook. That is expected to cost $140,000 and also will be funded by grants and contributions.
County Administrator Melissa Brunner was to review the proposal for the first phase stabilization grant. Towle and Thomas are scheduled to hear from the commissioners at 11:45 a.m. Monday.