Fort Collins is the most populous municipality in Larimer County, located along the foothills of the Front Range on the Cache la Poudre River in the US state of Colorado. Although there is no documentation, the story goes that French-Canadian fur trappers were caught in a heavy snowstorm as they passed through the area around 1820. Seeking to lighten their load, they buried their stores of gunpowder along the banks of a river, intending to return to collect them. The name of the river, Cache la Poudre, means “hide (or hide) the (gunpowder)” in French. Colonel William O. Collins was the commandant of Fort Laramie in Wyoming, and the original colony was established with his approval.
Geography and climate of Fort Collins
Fort Collins sits on the Cache La Poudre River, approximately 60 miles (97 km) north of Denver, where the river emerges from the foothills to flow east through the Great Plains. The city is located in an area called the Front Range Urban Corridor, which runs along the base of the northern foothills of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The Great Plains lie to the east of the city. Fort Collins is located at an elevation of 1,525 m above sea level. The Cache La Poudre River and Spring Creek flow through the city, which covers a total area of 151,444 km2, of which 148,179 km2 is occupied by land and 3,265 km2 by water.
Fort Collins experiences a humid continental climate according to the Köppen climate classification. There are four seasons; overall rainfall is low over the year, fluctuating from just over 1″ in September to over 12″ in March. The average annual snowfall is around 51 inches and snow can fall between early September and late May. July, the hottest month, has average daytime temperatures of 22.8°C, with very little precipitation (an average of just 1.56″). The weather is always variable; the city averages about 29 days a year with temperatures of 90°F or higher. December is the coldest month, with average daytime highs of -0.4°C and rainfall of around 7.2″. The city occasionally experiences extreme weather, such as the 1997 flash flood, when up to 14 inches of rain fell over a 31-hour period.
Brief History of Fort Collins
For centuries before the arrival of European settlers, the Arapaho and other native tribes traveled and hunted in the area. The Northern Arapaho were based in the valley of the Cache la Poudre river, near the present city. After years of conflict, the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and other native tribes were transferred to Oklahoma via the 1865 Little Arkansas Treaty and the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty. An existing encampment on the Cache la Poudre River named Camp Collins was located in what is now the town of LaPorte. Built in 1862 by the Ninth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry during the Indian Wars, its purpose was to protect travelers and those arriving in the area to settle along the Overland Trail. The Overland Trail was a major line of stagecoaches that ran along the foothills, bringing mail as well as travelers through the region. Colonel William O. Collins was the commandant of Fort Laramie in Wyoming and the camp was set up with his approval. The floods of 1862 prompted soldiers to move to higher ground in an area near what is now the Old City. The fort was abandoned in 1865, but development was already underway to accommodate the flow of people. In 1872 there was a small hotel, post office and general store. In addition, a school had been built, as well as a mill and a brickyard, to stimulate local employment. Local businessman Joseph Mason led a group of citizens in a successful effort to move the county seat from LaPorte to Fort Collins in 1868. New residential land was developed south of Old Town. Fort Collins was incorporated in 1873. In 1877 the Colorado Central Railroad came to town, and the first Colorado Agricultural & Mechanical College classroom was built in 1879. The school’s name was changed to Colorado State University in 1957. Fort Collins grew rapidly after World War II, expanding southward in the late 20th century. The old town was revitalized and became a tourist hub in the 1980s.
Population and Economy of Fort Collins
The city’s population was counted at 169,810 in the last U.S. census, representing an increase of just under 18% from 2010 figures. Originally an agricultural colony that was established in 1872, the population of the small colony began its first growth spurt. Growth was steady through the late 1800s and into the 20th century. After World War II, Fort Collins’ population doubled with the post-war economic boom.
Sheep herding, stone mining and agriculture were established very early in the region. The college has been involved in research and other forms of support for the sugar beet industry, and beet tops have also been developed for use as fodder for sheep farms in the area. In the early 20th century, the area around Fort Collins was known as the “Lamb Feeding Capital of the World.” Colorado was one of the largest producers of beet sugar in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Great Western Sugar Company was a major employer until 1955. After World War II, the company opened an MSG plant in Fort Collins. Prices for sugar beets and other agricultural products fluctuated throughout the 1920s, and the stock market crash of 1929 plunged the entire country into a depression. As banks began seizing more properties, Larimer County farmers rebelled and helped rig land auctions, among other efforts. Nevertheless, thousands of farms were closed or simply abandoned as prices continued to fall. At the same time, another round of drought during the 1930s made irrigation difficult to maintain. The drought created the infamous dust storms of the time. Federal assistance gradually helped revive agricultural industries in the region. During the 1960s, enrollment at Colorado State University doubled, and its role as the city’s driving economic and social force solidified through the end of the 20th century. Today, it has approximately 7,800 employees. In addition to the university, Fort Collins’ economy is based on a mix of manufacturing and service industries. Many technology and research facilities are connected to the university, and companies such as Hewlett Packard and Intel have local offices. The brewing business employs around 2,500 people and contributes millions to the local economy, including small craft breweries and well-known companies such as Anheuser-Busch, New Belgium Brewing Company and Odell Brewing Company.
Attractions in Fort Collins
Horsetooth Mountain Open Space
The spectacular natural setting of the Front Range foothills is the town’s main tourist draw. Just west of Fort Collins, the open space of Horsetooth Mountain features miles of intersecting trails, the area named after the distinctive Horsetooth Rock formation at the summit and Horsetooth Falls. Rafting is a popular sport on the Cache La Poudre River.
Soapstone meadow natural area
Fort Collins includes approximately 875 acres of parks and public spaces such as golf courses and basketball courts. North of the city, Fort Collins Council has purchased the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, a conservation area that also includes an archaeological site.
Today, from a rest stop on Stagecoach Road, tourists can travel by car along the Overland Trail just west of Fort Collins. The old town showcases the city’s unique history, with well-preserved 19th century houses, shops, restaurants and a vintage tram.