by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator
Old Town Fort Collins. Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation
Earlier this morning, Fort Collins Mayor Doug Hutchinson stood on the west steps of the Museum to announce some exciting news: Fort Collins has been chosen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of their dozen “Distinctive Destinations” for 2010. The communities recognized by the National Trust are characterized as offering an “authentic visitor experience by combining dynamic downtowns, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, cultural landscapes and a strong commitment to historic preservation, sustainability and revitalization.” Yup, that’s us!
Fort Collins is frequently recognized for its beautifully preserved historic architecture — you’ll hear this a lot around here, and it’s true: “Main Street USA” at Disneyland was modeled on our very own Old Town. There are over 1,800 historic properties in Fort Collins that are on the national, State or local historic register. Fort Collins is not a very old community, but we’ve worked to preserve our heritage as a city, albeit a “young” one. The National Trust also gave us enthusiastic nods for our “active living” and our longstanding sustainability efforts. And our beer, too, of course.
But the phrase that popped out at me was “cultural landscapes.” To me, this is our most shining, if also least known, jewel: our literal “cultural landscape” is over 12,000 years old. Historic preservation is mostly about structures — the “built environment.” Around here, the built environment reflects less than 2% of the total time people have lived in this area. For the rest of that time, landscape and culture were deeply interwoven. The histories and traditions of the people who lived here over the millennia were encoded in the prairies, rivers, hills, plants, animals, earth and sky. If you’re familiar with the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, you know that Ice Age peoples left ample evidence of their lives at the Lindenmeier Archaeological Site. You may not know that stone tools created by even more ancient people were discovered in a farm field in Timnath, just east of Fort Collins. This Clovis cache resides at the Museum today. Folsom tools have been found not far from where the CSU Rams play football on fall afternoons.
This story is a harder sell — no wonderful old trolley cars or sandstone buildings to point to. Lots of stone tools, yes, but so much we don’t know about them. The people who could have told us the stories written on the prairies, rivers, and hills were driven off long ago and much of that precious information has been lost forever.
But this is the essential underpinning of what makes Fort Collins a “Distinctive Destination,” this deep cultural taproot that has grown so vigorously in this amazing landscape. I hope it’s a story people will continue to be curious about as they explore this marvelous community.
And don’t miss this: you can vote for your favorite of the 12 “Distinctive Destinations.” Vote early, vote often, vote Fort Collins!
Some other links:
National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2010 Dozen Distinctive Destinations
USA Today article “National Trust names Dozen Distinctive Destinations for 2010”
Speaking History: The Soapstone Prairie Oral History Project (video)