Collaborative effort brings interpretive signs to RGNA

The San Luis Valley is widely known for its collaborative partnerships. The beautiful new interpretive signs in the Rio Grande Natural Area (RGNA) at the Highway 142 bridge are a prime example of public and private entities working together to achieve good outcomes for the communities and visitors alike.

The project began in 2019 when the Salazar Rio Grande Del Norte Center at Adams State University reached out to the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage (SdCNHA) to work together toward interpretive signage for the Rio Grande Natural Area. This general area is where Don Diego de Vargas, the Spanish Governor of colonial New Mexico, made the earliest documented entrance into present day Colorado in 1694. The Rio Grande Natural Area holds many other significant histories, vast landscapes, and rich culture.

SdCNHA worked with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) who assessed the environmental effects of the proposed project. After receiving the green light from BLM, SdCNHA contracted with San Luis Valley Great Outdoors (SLV GO!) to oversee the construction of the sign and the installation of the panels.

“In the San Luis Valley, collaborations between organizations like SdCNHA, SLV GO!, BLM, and the Salazar Rio Grande Del Norte Center are often the tipping point for moving important projects forward,” said Mick Daniel, executive director of SLV GO! “The interpretive sign at the Rio Grande Natural Area will bring recognition to a beautiful and historical area that is often overlooked by passersby.”

Building upon existing designs of portal signs around the SdCNHA and a previous grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation, the interpretive panels were designed by Kelly Ortiz with content provided by partners and local historians. Van Iwaarden Builders designed the portal sign structure and KVO Industries printed the panels once they were completed.

The celebration of the installation of the new portal sign structure drew state and community leaders together at the site for a ribbon cutting ceremony on May 15.

SdCNHA, alongside with their partners the Salazar Rio Grande Del Norte Center, BLM, and SLV GO! hosted the ribbon cutting ceremony. The event began with a performance by Danza Azteca de Anahuac who enchanted the crowd with the sounds of the drums and flute. As Master of Ceremonies, Ken Salazar, Valley native, former Colorado Senator and former United States Secretary of the Interior, welcomed the crowd and discussed the richness in the spirit of the people in the San Luis Valley. Salazar noted that the SdCNHA was a “vision and a dream that I shared with Congressman John Salazar, who sponsored the bill in the United States House of Representatives, and I sponsored in the United States Senate, which was then signed into law in 2009 by President Barack Obama.”

Also attending the ceremony was Colorado Gov. Jared Polis who called the San Luis Valley “the beating heart and soul of Colorado.” He went on to say, “Public lands are a part of our identity and a major economic driver in our great state.”

United States Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), former Governor of Colorado and former Mayor of Denver, told the crowd that “there are so many ways a community can become divided, and sometimes a river or a natural area is all you need to unite a community.”

Colorado State Sen. Cleave Simpson (R-35thDistrict) called this project “a reflection of what the community can do when they come together.”

Following the speaker's remarks and the cutting of the red ribbon of the new sign, the crowd enjoyed catering from the Dutch Mill Cafe while being entertained by Mariachi San Luis.

“The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area is excited to collaborate with partners like these to promote, preserve, protect, and interpret the heritage area’s profound historical, religious, environmental, geographic, geological, cultural, and linguistic resources. The heritage area is extremely unique in these aspects and we are hopeful that these collaborations will enhance educational material. We encourage individuals to get out and explore these significant resources that the heritage area has to offer,” said Julie Chacon, executive director of the SdCNHA.

SdCNHA and its partners gave a special thanks to all who attended, from local citizens, to state and federal representatives, to the BLM for its role in providing the site for the signage and a role in managing a large portion of the RGNA along the Rio Grande, and CDOT for assistance in managing traffic.

For more information of the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area, visit