Chaffee County is on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in central Colorado. Bordered on the west by the Sawatch Range, including the 14,000-foot Continental Divide, the eastern boundary of the county follows the Mosquito Range, descending toward the south. Located high in the Upper Arkansas Valley, the Arkansas River flows toward the southeast, between the two mountain ranges. The elevation of the area ranges from just under 7,000 to over 14,000 feet on its highest peaks, providing some spectacular views. Chaffee County has more mountain peaks of 14,000 feet or more than any other county in Colorado and is often referred to as the “Fourteener” Region. The area is known for its outdoor recreation: whitewater rafting, skiing, hiking, mountain biking, four-wheeling, ziplining and hot springs.
History of the Region
The history of Salida and the surrounding area is a rich mix of many influences. The Ute Indians, for whom many of the local mountain peaks are named, originally settled the area. Chaffee County was established in 1879 and named for Jerome Chaffee, a United States Senator and local investor. Salida was incorporated a year later, in 1880. Early in its history, the area experienced an influx of explorers, miners, railroad expansionists, farmers and ranchers. The influence of each has dwindled over the years, but their mark on the history of the area is evident throughout the valley.
Salida’s burgeoning arts community has taken root in the city’s downtown historic district. Nearly abandoned during the economic slump of the 1980s, historic preservationists and other community leaders worked hard to preserve the Victorian charm and integrity of the buildings. Artists and small business owners were encouraged to locate here, and the gamble paid off. Salida is ranked 30th in John Villani’s book, “The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America.” Many local artists are nationally known in their respective fields. Passersby can watch as painters, potters, jewelers and sculptors work their magic in their studio galleries. For performing artists, the historic SteamPlant Theater provides an extraordinary riverside setting. In the summer, the Aspen Concert Series, Alpine Orchestra, touring national recording artists and a host of family-oriented festivals make Salida a statewide tourist destination.
Salida’s business profile features a healthy balance of tourism, light industry, and community-supported businesses. As county seat, Salida is the base for hundreds of governmental jobs, while the regional medical center attracts talented health professionals from throughout the region. With average housing prices well below those in most other mountain communities, Salida attracts a diversity of energetic young families, artists, empty nesters and entrepreneurs, all contributing to the city’s economic and cultural vitality. To learn more about the Colorado Small Business Development network, contact Marilyn Laverty with the SBDC at 970-943-3157, or Susan Dunn at 719.395.4099. Visit the Chaffee County Economic Development Corp at www.chaffeecountyedc.com.
Salida is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. In fact, Chaffee County was touted as one of just 18 “blissfully unsullied locales” left in the U. S., as detailed in Outside magazine’s August 2002 “Dream Acres” cover story. With six of every seven acres designated public lands, Salida is the perfect base camp for bird watchers, hikers, peak baggers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, trail runners, rock climbers, boaters, anglers, hunters and off-road enthusiasts. In the winter there are designated snowmobile routes, endless backcountry skiing, and it’s just a 20-minute drive to Monarch Mountain ski resort for no frills, big thrills, lift-served skiing and snowboarding. The Arkansas River, a signature feature of the county, passes right through Salida. Depending on to whom you talk, the pristine river is best known for its world class Brown Trout fishing, or world -class kayaking and whitewater rafting. Best yet, there are plenty of natural hot springs in the area, including Salida’s own municipal hot springs pool, that serve as a soothing end to any action-packed day.
In Chaffee County, it was reported that in the eight years from 1990 to 1997, some 2,217 people moved into the county. Of this total, 38 percent or 834 people came from within Colorado, and the balance came from other states.