Fort Lewis College will have greater access to funds generated by the Old Fort Lewis land near Hesperus after Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill freeing up use of the money.
Previously, law required the college to be granted permission, an appropriation, from the Legislature before it could use funds for upkeep and improvements on the historic site.
Some money is generated by the Old Fort through leases and permits to use the land, and that money goes into an account called the Hesperus Account.
“To me, it’s amazing it hadn’t been done sooner,” said Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose. “You had to go through an appropriation every time you wanted to use the fund. The whole thing was a total waste of time.”
Coram said the measure faced virtually no opposition.
In 1911, the state accepted what is today the Old Fort Lewis land near Hesperus, and it agreed to maintain the land as an institution of learning. Though Fort Lewis College eventually moved to Durango, the Old Fort land has remained an educational, cultural and historical resource.
Today, Fort Lewis College manages the Old Fort Lewis land in partnership with the Colorado State Land Board. The land has become a center for Fort Lewis College’s sustainable agriculture initiatives, including farmer-in-training programs and the Old Fort Market Garden Incubator.
College classes are held at the Old Fort, and the area is a resource for research. External agencies, such as the Mesa Verde Helitack and the Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection Department, use the land as well.
Over the last century, use, time and the elements have taken their toll on the land and its structures. As a result, repairs and restorations are needed to continue the Old Fort’s educational mission and preserve its historical and cultural heritage.
Hickenlooper signed HB 18-1048 into law on March 7.
The bill, which was sponsored by state Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and Coram would eliminate the need for an appropriation to tap the Hesperus Account funds.
McLachlan also said the bill faced almost no opposition.
The new law allows continuous appropriation of the money, which would help with the maintenance of the Old Fort Lewis land.
“Old Fort Lewis is an important educational resource and holds the powerful history of Fort Lewis College and the peoples of the Southwest,” said FLC President Dene Thomas. “I’m grateful to Rep. McLachlan and Sen. Coram for helping us to keep the Old Fort as the institution of learning it was designated as more than a century ago and giving us the opportunity to expand its value and service to the Four Corners region.”