Capitol Reef National Park
|Fruita Orchards, Capitol Reef National Park (National Park Service)|
Visitors to Capitol Reef National park are often curious about the thousands of fruit trees that lie within a mile or two of the Visitor Center. These treesapple, peach, cherry, apricot, mulberry, even Potowatomee Plumare the most obvious reminder of the pioneer community that once prospered in the narrow valley of the Fremont River.
Settlement came late to south-central Utahthe Capitol Reef area wasn't charted by credible explorers until 1871. In the last half of that decade, Latter Day Saints (Mormon) settlers moved into the high plateau lands west of Capitol Reef and established communities based on short-season farming and grazing. They then looked to the east, along the corridor of water snaking through the soaring cliffs and domes of the Waterpocket Foldthe Fremont River.
The origin of the little community at the junction of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek is obscure. The first "resident" may have been an 1879 squatter by the name of Franklin Young, but the first landholder of record was Niels Johnson. Other soon followed, and the community that sprang up became known as "Junction."
The Fremont River was the key to life; without irrigation, farming would have been impossible. Unlike some of the other small settlements that grew up further downriverAldrich, Caineville, Blue ValleyJunction was usually spared the more extreme devastation caused downriver by frequent flooding. The orchards of her residents prospered and before the turn of the century Junction was know as "the Eden of Wayne County." In 1900, the name of the little settlement was changed to "Fruita."
The settlement never incorporated. Local authoritysuch as it waswas vested in the Mormon "Presiding Elder." The population averaged about ten families.
Although it became widely known in south-central Utah for its orchards, Fruita residents also grew sorghum (for syrup and molasses), vegetables, and alfalfa. Fruit growers usually picked the fruit prior to maturation and hauled it by the wagon load to bigger towns like Price and Richfieldand beyond. This was a formidable undertaking when one considers that in 1901 it took the Mormon Bishop of Torrey more than an hour and a half to travel the nine miles between Fruita and Torrey in the best weather. If the road between Torrey and Fruita was difficult, the "road" between Fruita and Hanksville37 miles eastwas nearly impossible.
In 1883, residents of Fruita (then Junction) had built a passage through Capitol Gorge that extended to Caineville and Hanksville. This primitive roadway was called the "Blue Dugway" and it served to connect the river settlements with the rest of Utah until after World War II. This narrow wagon track was so difficult, however, that the little communities remained some of the most isolated in America until the mid-20th century.
Along the Fremont River, barter served as the means for acquiring goods and services; cash was in short supply. Although some Fruita men worked on state roads, annual fruit sales remained the major sources of cash income.
The one-room schoolhouse, constructed by residents in 1896, also served as a community center. The desks were movable and the community enjoyed dances and box socials in the little building. Residents also held church activities there as well as in private homes. Women often quilted together and men and boys were especially fond of baseball. "Putting up" foods was not a hobby in Fruita; it was essential for survival through the winter.
Well into the modern era, farming techniques in Fruita remained in the 19th century. It was not until World War II that the first tractor was purchased.
Fifty years ago, Fruita was spared much of the anguish that the Great Depression brought to other communities in America. Long reliance on barter as the main method of obtaining basic life needs shielded the Fremont River settlers from the cash drought that plagued the nation. Contrary to what one might imagine, Fruita sheltered passionate supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt as well as more conservative "Hooverites."
Although it wasn't recognized at the time, the establishment of Capitol Reef National Monument in 1937 would become a tolling bell for the Fruita community. After World War II, visitors began to arrive in increasing numbers; the road from Richfield to Torrey was paved in 1940. In 1952, the pavement was extended to Fruita; the world had found the Capitol Reef country.
As visitation to the monument increased in the post-war years, the National Park Service (NPS) was determined to purchase all the Fruita property still in private hands. By the late 1960s most of this had been accomplished on a "willing seller/willing buyer" basis. Many of the resident structures and outbuildings were razed.
Although most of the structures of the Fruita settlement are gone (with the exception of the restored schoolhouse, the Pendleton-Gifford house and barn, and a few others), the orchards remain and dominate the landscape. The new general management plan for Capitol Reef National Park cites the value of the orchards as a "historic landscape" and affirms the resolve of the NPS to preserve them.
The orchardsall owned by the United Statesare maintained at a level of about 2,500 trees with 1,800 "in production." A small crew is kept busy year-round with pruning, irrigation, replanting, and spraying.
As each fruit crop comes into season, the fruit is made available to the public on a "pick your own" basis. The park Superintendent sets the per pound or bushel price after checking local commercial orchard prices. Although he may take the isolation of Fruita into consideration in setting prices, he is not permitted to undercut private enterprise.
Management of the orchards, especially during picking season, presents some difficult problems to resolve. Because the trees were planted in smallish family orchards originallyeach with a wide variety of fruitfruit ripens in many "mini-orchards" at varying times. It is very difficult for park rangers to "open" orchards for picking in small "penny packets" and still exercise the control needed to protect the trees from damage and pickers from unsafe acts.
However, as the trees become overage, horticultural workers are slowly replacing the patchwork quilt-like layout of the orchards with a more orderly arrangement consisting of large tracts of monocultures, e.g., all peaches in one large orchard, all apricots in another large orchard, etc. In this way, the gross aspect of the "historic landscape" will be maintained but the fruit harvest will be much easier to manage.
For both visitors and regional residents, Fruita will continue to be the "Eden of Wayne County."
Fruit and Flower Harvest
Visitors of Capitol Reef are often curious about the orchards that lie within a mile or two of the Visitor Center. These trees are the most obvious remnant of the pioneer community of Fruita. Early settlers planted the orchards to insure subsistence. Today, the orchards are preserved and protected as a Rural Historic Landscape. The orchards hold approximately 2,700 trees and are composed of cherry, apricot, peach, pear, and apple, as well as, a few plum, mulberry, almond, and walnut trees. The National Park Service now owns and maintains the orchards with a two-person orchard crew that is kept busy year-round with pruning, irrigation, and orchard management.
You are welcome to stroll in any unlocked orchard and you may consume as much ripe fruit as you want while in the orchards. Fruit may not be picked in quantity until the designated harvest begins. Orchards that are open for picking are signed as such. A fee is charged for all fruit picked and removed from the orchards. Signs listing fruit prices, scales, plastic bags, and a self-pay station are located near the entrance of open orchards. Please select only ripe fruit and leave the rest to ripen for other visitors.
Hand-held fruit pickers and ladders are provided to aid in picking. Please read the safety signs located near the orchard entrance before using orchard ladders! Be sure the ladder is on firm, level ground with the third leg fully extended and the chains pulled tight. Do not stand on the top three rungs, and avoid leaning to either side when picking. Records indicate serious ladder fall injuries most often involve senior citizens. Children should not use ladders unsupervised. Please do not climb trees. The orchards can add much to your Capitol Reef visit!
Approximate Flowering and Harvesting Times
Cherries 3/31 - 4/19
Apricots 2/27 - 3/20 Early
Apricots 3/7 - 4/13 Regular
Peaches 3/26 - 4/23
Pears 3/31 - 5/3
Apples 4/10 - 5/6
Cherries 6/11 - 7/7
Apricots 6/27 - 7/22 Early
Apricots 6/28 - 7/18 Regular
Peaches 8/4 - 9/6
Pears 8/7 - 9/8
Apples 9/4 - 10/17
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication