The History of the Cache La Poudre River
The headwaters for the Cache la Poudre River originate from three different forks high up along the Continental Divide before descending to become the river that empties out of the Poudre Canyon on to the Front Range of Northern Colorado. The Main and South Forks of the Poudre River each begin their journey in Rocky Mountain National Park before joining high in the Poudre Canyon, while the headwaters of the North Fork can be found in the Roosevelt National Forest, north of the Poudre Canyon. The North Fork travels east before turning south and joining the other two forks after passing through the Milton Seaman Reservoir. Many mountain streams combine to make the Poudre River one of the largest rivers in Northern Colorado.
The Name: “Cache la Poudre”
According to legend a group of French trappers were traveling north and camped along the banks of the river. During the night a storm brought a substantial amount of snow and continued for several days. When the storm finally passed the trappers decided to lighten their wagons in order to cross the river and continue their journey. Supplies were hidden in a pit, a large percentage of which was gun powder. Hence the name Cache La Poudre (hiding place of the powder). The dates (1820’s or 1836) and the original party (William Ashley party or a fur trading company) are up for debate, but the story behind the name remains the same.
The Importance of the River
Since the early days of settlement of Northern Colorado in the 1800’s, the Poudre River has become the lifeblood of this region and is one of our most important natural resources. The river provides a source of water for agriculture and to residents of the area. It also acts as a source for wildlife refuge, gravel mining, and for recreation.
Demands on the water resources have greatly increased as the population of Colorado has grown. The Poudre River is of vital importance to the thousands of citizens that depend on it for water. From irrigation for crops, golf courses, lawns and parks, to uses for industry, as well as drinking and bathing water for the residents, the resources of the Poudre River are in great demand. Precipitation in the Front Range of Colorado averages only 15 inches per year, yet the typical bluegrass lawn requires twice that amount at about 30 to 40 inches of moisture per year to stay alive.
The River Today
Today, the Poudre River looks substantially different than it was 100 years ago. Due to the multiple reservoirs that are fed from it and the demands of a growing populace, the once rushing river resembles only a stream in some locations during the winter months.
However, the Poudre River still holds a majesty of its own. The trail allows people to experience the beauty of the river and its surroundings. It also acts to preserve the river’s edge and to help maintain the habitat for the wildlife that lives along the river.
The Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area
The Poudre River Trail Corridor is one portion of the Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area. This area includes forty-five miles of the Cache la Poudre River, starting from where it flows out of the Roosevelt National Forest, northwest of Fort Collins. The Heritage Area extends to the confluence with the South Platte River, east of Greeley.
This National Heritage Area commemorates the significant contribution of the Poudre River to the development of water law in the Western United States and to the evolution of highly complex water delivery systems which are an important part of the economy of the Northern Colorado region.
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