La Junta Heritage Center (La Junta) is revitalizing a portion of the Rio Grande ecosystem through innovations in ecological restoration.

La Junta sits at the confluence of the Rio Grande and Río Conchos on the United States and Mexico border. The river connecting the two countries once served as the ecological lifeline of the region. The vast cottonwood forests, meandering wetlands, mesquite bosques, and free-flowing waters created one of the most ecologically diverse regions in North America.

While the construction of dams and infrastructure for water management of the Rio Grande created one of the most productive agricultural areas in the United States, it came at a cost. Dams slowed floodwaters, channelized the river, and advanced the spread of non-native plant species. Decades later, 90% of the native habitats of the Rio Grande are destroyed.

Communities once interlaced to the river and knowledgeable of its flood and drought cycles are now disconnected from this vital resource. The once life-giving floods have reduced to a trickle, taking away the river’s natural cycle. The vast forest, wetlands, and side channels, once cherished for swimming, hunting, camping, and fishing, have diminished to almost nothing. Degradation of riparian habitats has left the wildlife species that depended on these habitats in jeopardy.

When completed, La Junta will serve as a model for restoration of the Rio Grande’s native habitats. The La Junta Board of Directors has developed a Master Plan to restore these habitants by reintroducing the once-thriving cottonwoods, wetlands, and mesquites. The plan aims to recreate the natural conditions that existed within the current existing constraints of the Rio Grande. We will use proven ecological restoration methods developed over the last 50 years on rivers in the American West, such as the Colorado River and elsewhere on the Rio Grande. The initiative seeks to return to balance the economy, the community, the wildlife, and the river.

Our Board of Directors has over 40 years of combined practical experience in large-scale ecological restoration. These nationally recognized, award-winning conservation experts will not only introduce innovative methods, they will use the site to educate others about restoration ecology through workshops and on-site trainings.

These efforts will provide the impetus for a local “restoration economy” that provides jobs, replenishes riparian ecosystems, and restores pride in the Rio Grande as an iconic, vital river.