The one million acre San Miguel Watershed lies within one of the largest remaining relatively undisturbed areas of North America. At its heart the free-flowing San Miguel River extends for 80 miles from high alpine headwaters above Telluride, Ophir, and Trout Lake through scenic canyons to a desert confluence with the Dolores River in the high desert red rock country near the Utah border. The San Miguel is considered to be one of the few remaining ecologically and hydrologically intact river systems in Colorado. Over 60% of the land in the watershed is managed by the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, with the balance being privately owned. It includes the incorporated towns of Nucla, Naturita, Norwood, Telluride, Mountain Village, Ophir and Sawpit, as well as several other unincorporated towns.

Historically the area’s economy has been based upon mining, ranching, logging, power production and agricultural activities. More recently the upper basin experienced high growth rates based upon the international reputation of the Telluride ski resort, high quality festivals and events, retirement and second home development and a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities. Roughly 6000 people live and work in the watershed with many more commuting daily to work.

The San Miguel Basin is changing. The upper Basin shift to a resort economy coupled with a decline of traditional industries has altered social and economic patterns. Residents are concerned about a host of environmental issues such as degrading riparian communities, the spread of noxious weeds, impacts to water quality, and unstable river channels. Basin communities are challenged with finding ways to enhance their long-term economic and cultural well-being while preserving landscape health.

1,000,000 acres

The size of the San Miguel Watershed

80 miles

Length of the San Miguel River


The San Miguel Basin Is Changing