WSRPD Logo Final
Our Communities
About Ouray
Ouray Activities
Questions? Contact:

Crissy Supples
Rural Philanthropy Days Program Manager

T: 719-530-2651

Leah Rausch
Program Assistant
T: 303-623-1540 x 170

Gunnison County

Gunnison County

Like many other counties on the Western Slope, Gunnison County was founded on the basis of ranching and mining, with the railroad developing both to facilitate shipping and to provide a route to California. In the early 1850’s, Captain John Gunnison of the Army Topographical Engineers was chosen to survey a route for a transcontinental railroad joining East and West. Encountering the deep canyons of the Lake Fork and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Captain Gunnison determined the use of the area impractical, though the D&RG railroad eventually built a route through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in the 1880's.

With the rugged terrain, friction between miners and the Ute Indian tribe, and extreme weather, settlement in Gunnison County was transitory throughout the 19th century. In the late 1850’s, miners began migrating to the Gunnison County area in search of placer gold. In1870, coal was discovered near the present site of Schofield, and in 1876, when Colorado entered the Union, Gunnison County was established. By 1882, the Crested Butte area had become the state’s leading mountain coal operation courtesy of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. By 1883, however, Gunnison experienced a mining bust, causing half of the population to leave.

Due to the difficulty of growing crops in such an arid environment with such a short growing season, the cattle industry was a much more viable ranching option and was established by 1880. In 1909, Gunnison’s Colorado State Normal School was founded, changing its name to Western State College in 1915. Today, Western State College is one of Colorado’s top four-year, fully-accredited undergraduate institutions, with approximately 275 full-time employees and 2,400 students.

Ranching continues to play a major role in the culture and economy of Gunnison County, along with the coal mine in Somerset and the ski industry in Crested Butte. Gunnison County encompasses 3,239 square miles, 78% of which is federal land owned by the USFS (1,220,035 acres), BLM (355,350 acres), and Curecanti National Recreation Area (40,000 acres), for a total of 2,526 square miles.


As of July 2007, the population of Gunnison County was 14,973 (45% urban, 55% rural). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of residents in Gunnison is 30.4 years, and 89.7% of the population Caucasian. Only 7% of residents are over 65. Approximately 50% of the county’s population resides in the towns of Gunnison or Crested Butte.


The economic base in the county is primarily tourism, followed by education and ranching. In 2007, the median income for households in Gunnison County was $49,333 and 10.7% of the population was below the poverty line. 

In conjunction with the Gunnison Valley Economic Development Corporation and the City and County of Gunnison, the Gunnison Country Chamber of Commerce strives to retain and assist in the growth of existing businesses and institutions through education and support from the many available resources. Industries providing employment include arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services (21.8%); educational, health, and social services (17.5%); retail trade (14.3%); and construction (14.0%).

Health & Emergency Services

In a study for The Regional Health Needs Assessment: 2007, Gunnison County identified a lack of behavioral health services for substance and alcohol abuse, provider shortage, and child well-being as priority public health areas. Environmental health concerns included water quality/waste water, food safety/consumer protection, and environment/sustainable development.

The county is served by Gunnison Valley Hospital (GVH), a 24-bed, short-term, acute care hospital owned and operated by Gunnison County. Gunnison Valley Hospital is a Level IV Trauma Center, and local physicians staff the ER 24 hours a day, seven days a week; general surgical, orthopaedic, and OB/GYN consultants are available on an on-call basis. The ER department is supplied with state-of-the-art equipment, meeting the demands of patients with ailments ranging from bronchitis to multi-system trauma.

Helpful Links,_Colorado