After years of debate, the Animas Canyon Toll Road – an historic wagon road that was the first route from Durango to Silverton – has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The listing heightens the awareness of this historical resource on the national forest and the need to preserve it,” Julie Coleman, San Juan National Forest archaeologist, said in a prepared statement. “It further reinforces the importance of the wagon road and alerts the public to its history.”
For years, conservationists have pushed for a historic designation for a portion of the Animas Canyon Toll Road, a route pioneers traveled in the late 1870s before the arrival of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
“It was the first road from Animas City to Silverton, before Durango even existed,” Bev Rich, director of the San Juan Historical Society, previously told The Durango Herald. “That’s pretty historic in itself.”
Rich did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment on the designation.
According to the news release, “other portions of the wagon road, located on both public and private lands, have been obliterated over the years by modern-day development and construction of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Electra Dam.”
However, a survey found 16 segments totaling about four miles on Forest Service land retain the construction techniques and setting of the original wagon road.
What’s left of the wagon road starts at the northern edge of Haviland Lake campground, and then winds north toward Electra Lake where the road is subsequently enveloped by the reservoir.
Another section drops from Electra Lake to Cascade and down to the Animas River.
“There are few historic wagon roads anywhere in the American West because most became highways,” Andrew Gulliford, professor of history at Fort Lewis College, previously told the Herald. “The highest standard is to place it on the historic registry. It’s important for Southwest Colorado history, but also because it’s so rare in the state.”
Columbine District Ranger Matt Janoviak was not immediately available for comment Thursday, so it’s unclear what the designation means for the future of the wagon road.
According to the Forest Service, the Animas Canyon Toll Road joins Chimney Rock National Monument and the Falls Creek Rock Shelters as San Juan National Forest sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.