Proposed uses for Old Fort property

Mike Kaiser, a business administration student from Chicago, tills the soil in what will become a covered greenhouse. Kaiser is in the college’s sustainable-foods class, which bases most of its curriculum on fieldwork done at the Old Fort property. The class has created gardens, hoophouses and greenhouses to study organic, sustainable and small-scale growing techniques. It is one of the classes the college expects to continue offering on the property. Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Mike Kaiser, a business administration student from Chicago, tills the soil in what will become a covered greenhouse. Kaiser is in the college’s sustainable-foods class, which bases most of its curriculum on fieldwork done at the Old Fort property. The class has created gardens, hoophouses and greenhouses to study organic, sustainable and small-scale growing techniques. It is one of the classes the college expects to continue offering on the property.

Sustainable agriculture, cottage industries and alternative energy

Fort Lewis College heads several sustainable agriculture projects on the property and has plans to expand that work.

A farm-incubator program just beginning on the property will allow new farmers to lease access to land and water while taking training classes through Fort Lewis College.

“The idea is to create a place for beginning farmers to start up because farmland is so expensive,” said Beth LaShell, the Old Fort coordinator.

The incubator, which is a partnership between the La Boca Center for Sustainability and the Colorado Department of Agriculture, will begin accepting applications in the fall.

Amber Beye, an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer, is using part of the incubator plot land to grow food for distribution to low-income families. Beye also is beginning a program to grow hops on the land with the goals of educating farmers on high-altitude cultivation techniques and supplying brewers with locally grown hops.

Other people see potential for the property to support a diverse array of business endeavors.

As part of her work on a committee to brainstorm new ideas for the land, FLC student Christine Myers presented ideas for native traditional foods and medicinal crops production, leather goods, alternative-energy development and wool-processing endeavors.

Satellite campus

Several departments already use the Old Fort land for fieldwork classes and many FLC educators would like to see that number grow.

Though the college’s longtime agriculture program ended this year, sustainable food-production classes will continue on the land, said LaShell, who teaches the classes. The classes teach small-acreage farming, seasonal growing techniques and food-marketing strategies. Most class projects have regional impacts through partnerships with other universities, nonprofits or state programs, LaShell said.

Biology classes will continue field classes on the property. Educators involved with the college’s new engineering degree program have expressed interest in using the land for renewable-engineering classes and Engineers Without Borders, a student-centered organization that works on engineering projects in the developing world. As wireless capability improves, the physics and engineering department hopes to make more use of the telescope that was installed on the land in 2004, department professor Charles Hakes said.

With access to the Old Fort, the college’s Native American and Indigenous Studies Department could start offering classes like ethnobotany, native agronomy and applied archaeology, said Carey Vicenti, a professor in the department.

Fairgrounds or agricultural use

Many community members want the Old Fort land near Hesperus to be used for agricultural purposes such as cattle grazing and community-extension projects. Breen-area resident Loretta Paulek Lee urged the Old Fort Steering committee to consider teaming up with the county to create a new fairground on the Old Fort Lewis campus. The facility could host 4-H and Future Farmers of America groups and could serve as a regional center for events such as horse shows and county fairs, Lee said.

“It bothers me to see the campus go unused and start deteriorating,” she said.

Fort Lewis College also runs hay and cattle operations on the land, which are expected to continue into the future.

Buffalo herd

Since 2007, the Buffalo Council student group has advocated establishing a buffalo herd on the Old Fort land. In a 40-page report, the group outlines economic, academic and cultural benefits of a herd. Buffalo would foster a unique educational curriculum at the college, help develop local food production and promote self-sufficiency, food security and retention among Native American students, the report said.

“We can show Indian country as well as non-Indians that we can create something new through academia that is indigenized,” said Bobby Abshire, a member of the Buffalo Council.

The plan has the support of tribal elders, students and professors from Fort Lewis College and elsewhere.

Buffalo are central to the environment and to native peoples, and for the Buffalo Council students to recognize and embrace that concept is “revolutionary,” said LaNada War Jack, past executive director of the Shoshone Bannock tribe and an elder who advises the group.

Emery Cowan