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Paonia, Colorado

The Town of Paonia is a Statutory Town in Delta County, Colorado, United States. The population was 1,497 at the 2000 census.


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The area was first explored in 1853 by Captain John W. Gunnison of the United States Army. Gunnison was on an expedition to locate a suitable pass through the Rocky Mountains for the Topographical Engineers. The North Fork Valley was inhabited by Ute Indians until 1880, when the Ute Indian Reservation was closed by the federal government following the infamous Meeker Massacre.

Following the closure of the reservation, the site itself was settled in 1880 by Samuel Wade and William Clark, who had accompanied Enos Hotchkiss to the area. The town was officially incorporated in 1902 and had its first election in July of that year. The peony roots that Samuel Wade brought with him to Colorado in 1881 inspired him to submit the Latin name for peony, "Paeonia" as a town name. The post office wouldn't allow the extra vowel, so Paeonia became Paonia. The full name of the flower is Paeonia mascula.


Paonia is located at 38°52′03″N 107°35′33″W. The town is situated on the North Fork River, about 10 miles up from neighboring Hotchkiss, Colorado. It lies near the head of the North Fork Valley, an area about 150 miles southwest of Denver, Colorado's capital. The valley lies at the foot of Mount Lamborn (peak elevation 11,397) and the Grand Mesa. This valley forms the North fork of the Gunnison River watershed. According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 0.8 square miles (2.1 km2), all of it land.


Paonia, ColoradoAs of the census of 2000, there were 1,497 people, 631 households, and 393 families residing in the town. The population density was 1,972.2 people per square mile (760.5/km²). There were 705 housing units at an average density of 928.8 per square mile (358.2/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 96.46% White, 0.07% African American, 0.47% Native American, 0.20% Asian, 1.74% from other races, and 1.07% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.48% of the population. There were 631 households out of which 28.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.2% were married couples living together, 10.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.6% were non-families. 33.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29 and the average family size was 2.95.

In the town the population was spread out with 24.4% under the age of 18, 6.9% from 18 to 24, 25.2% from 25 to 44, 21.8% from 45 to 64, and 21.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 93.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.8 males. The median income for a household in the town was $31,831, and the median income for a family was $40,170. Males had a median income of $35,962 versus $17,500 for females. The per capita income for the town was $16,033. About 9.7% of families and 12.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.4% of those under age 18 and 15.9% of those age 65 or over.


Coal mining - A substantial portion of Paonia's residents are employed in one of several coal mines located near Somerset a few miles from the town. The valley's principal coal mines are Oxbow Mining's Elk creek mine Arch Coal's West Elk Mine, and a mine run by Bowie Resources Bucyrus International, the leading supplier of underground coal mining equipment, operates a small warehouse in Paonia for support of the underground longwall systems that are operating in the North Fork valley. Union Pacific provides service to the Bowie #2 Mine, loading-up 100 car trains in two hours.

Fruit growing - The area around Paonia is known for its orchards such as first fruits, which produce excellent peaches, apples, cherries, and other fruits. In addition, several vineyards and wineries have recently been established in the area.

Bamboo Rod making - Home of Gnomish Rod Works, And the only Travelling museum dedicated to the fly rod in the world.

Media - The noted Western newspaper, High Country News, is based in Paonia. High Country News reports on the Western US, and is focused on the environment, land use, and public lands issues. Community radio station KVNF was founded in Paonia and continues to have studios in downtown Paonia. KVNF also now serves a number of towns in the North Fork and Uncompagre Valleys in Western Colorado through a network of stations and translators.

Paonia does not have a local newspaper. It is served by The North Fork Times, formerly an independent paper and now a section in the Delta County Independent. The area is also served by the monthly North Fork Merchant Herald, published in nearby Hotchkiss. The Mountain Valley News ( has become an important weekly, which routinely covers events and news in the North Fork Valley. An ad paper, the High Country Shopper, owned by Advantage Holdings, Inc. the same company that owns MVN. The Shopper gives some insight into the community through its display and classified advertising.


Paonia, Colorado Festivities

Cherry Days - Paonia celebrates its "Cherry Days" festival annually on the week of July 4. It features parades, a carnival, games, arts and crafts and musical performances.

Mountain Harvest Festival - The Mountain Harvest Festival is a 3 day event in downtown Paonia held during the last weekend of September. There are over 20 musical acts, poetry, an art show, a chili cook off, a street dance, crafts, wine tasting, as well as classes on canning, raising livestock and sustainable living.

BMW rally - Paonia usually hosts an annual rally for BMW motorcycle enthusiasts, who descend upon the town in mid-summer and stay for several days.

Dreamtime Festival - The annual Dreamtime Festival has been hosted annually just outside of Paonia since 2002. Dreamtime combines live performances and music with educational workshops, theme camps and art installations. This fusion includes dancing, interactive sculptures, costumes, fire performances, theater, multimedia, creative fashion shows, DJs, a myriad of workshops, movement classes, healing camps, acoustic stages, and the inspired contributions of participants.

Rainbow Gathering - In 1992 the annual Rainbow Gathering was held at nearby Overland Reservoir. An estimated 18,275 people converged on the site and lived in temporary dwellings for the summer. Although the reservoir is 27 miles from Paonia, it had a significant impact on all the towns in the North Fork Valley, including Paonia. Many "New Agers" and members of the psychedelic community continue to reside in and around Paonia, which was the boyhood home of one of the voices and key figures of "ecstatic state" knowledge, Terence McKenna.


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