Despite a blow to its primary industry, Baca County stays strong
Writer’s note: For the next several weeks we will be focusing on Southern Colorado counties where they came from, what they have to offer and why more Coloradoans should pay them a visit. In this first edition we explore the southeastern most county in the state, Baca County.
Sitting at the southeastern edge of Colorado’s nearly perfect square is a county that has gone through more ebbs and flows since its formation in 1887 than some of the nation’s original colonies. Baca County was and is an agricultural county. As with dependence on any particular product, oil and gas, water, beef or agriculture, Baca has thrived or fallen with the nation’s agriculture.
When the Colorado Legislature decided to split off the eastern portion of Las Animas County, they gave the new county the name of Baca, placing the county seat in Springfield. The move was quickly met with success as the 1880s saw immense population growth due to an agricultural boom that led to the establishment of 13 towns. “The wet years” as they’ve come to be known, paved the way for a several years of agricultural prowess and helped establish the burgeoning county. The 1890s, however, put a halt to that growth as a dry spell doomed the flourishing agricultural and caused many to abandon their homes in a literal search of greener pastures.
Twenty years later another wet spell served to reestablish many of the vacated ghost towns as well as create new ones. The population growth also paved the way for additional acreage as the homesteaded land doubled from 160 acres to 320. World War I brought an additional demand for agricultural products as well as increased prices, which bode well with the county.
The Dust Bowl
As with all U.S. counties whose industry was based almost entirely on agriculture, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s was a decimating blow to Baca County. In less than 10 years the county saw its population decline from 10,570 to 6,207. With a population of 3,788 per the 2010 Census, the county was never able to recover from the Dust Bowl and has seen population decreases since.
Nationwide, Baca County is still considered as one of the counties the Dust Bowl affected the most. It did come with a silver lining however as the Federal Government chose to focus part of its soil conservation of the “Dirty Thirties” on Baca County. The purchase was for cultivated land that the government chose to turn back into grassland. That land now makes up the 220,000 acres of the Comanche National Grasslands.
The Comanche National Grasslands are just part of the recreational experiences available to visitors and residents of Baca County.
Picture Canyon sits 35 miles southwest of Springfield on the border of Colorado and Oklahoma. The canyon offers visitors an array of rock art, art created in the prehistoric era through pecking on the rock surface or painting on it. Also in the area are Balanced Rock and Crack Cave, where some of the cave markings were carved 1,000 years ago.
Another area for rock art is Carizzo Canyon. The images left in the canyon are primarily of animals. The area also includes a variety of hiking trails, wildlife viewing, camping, picnics and bird watching.
With five of the 14 trails that make up the Colorado Birding Trail, Baca County is a prime spot for bird watchers or birders. Over 400 species of birds live in the area and the Comanche Trail provides birders with a chance to place a few checkmarks on their aviary list while also taking in historical and archeological sites.
With summer approaching quickly, visitors to Baca can enjoy Two Buttes Reservoir for boating, jet skiing, camping, swimming, hunting and fishing. Speaking of summer, one of the county’s biggest events, the Baca County Fair and Rodeo takes place the first weekend in August. The event provides all things rodeo along with a parade through Springfield and a free barbeque.
For more information on visiting Baca County or its history, visit www.bacacountyco.gov.