In Colorado’s San Luis Valley, Western Rivers Conservancy launched an exciting new project to expand open space and improve river access for the city of Alamosa. Our effort will conserve a valuable stretch of the upper Rio Grande as both nature park and outdoor playground, doubling the size of Alamosa’s public park system and meeting the community’s need for recreational opportunities centered around the river.
This arcticle ran on October 4, 2017 online at Intermountain West Joint Venture.
As a kid growing up in the San Luis Valley, Brian Bechaver, now a district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, had free run of his family’s ranch, plus the sagebrush and riverside cottonwood groves on neighboring ranches, too. Over several decades he’s watched familiar agricultural land go up for sale and end up in hands that might not continue the access-friendly neighbor practices of the past.
But at least a few of the ranches Bechaver roamed will always be open to everyone. In 2016, with the goal of protecting prime fish and wildlife habitat and improving public access, the non-profit Western Rivers Conservancy purchased the Brownie Hills and Olguin Ranch properties in the San Luis Valley.
Deepening our commitment to Colorado’s San Luis Valley and the upper Rio Grande, Western Rivers Conservancy is preparing to purchase 368 acres along the Rio de los Piños. This high-elevation trout stream flows from nearly 10,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains and descends swiftly toward the San Luis Valley. Below Cumbres Pass, just off the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway, the river enters a high plateau and slows to a picture-perfect, meandering trout stream, surrounded by open meadows and mixed conifer forests of spruce and fir.
This Saturday more than 40 people gathered on the banks of the Yampa River to celebrate the successful conservation of the historic Hubbard Summer Camp, near the confluence of the Yampa River and Sarvis Creek. Representatives of Western Rivers Conservancy, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the Yampa River System Legacy Partnership, the Yampa Valley Flyfishers, and the Routt County Board of Commissioners were in attendance.
Colorado’s Little Cimarron River is a magnificent wild trout stream on its upper reaches. Portions of its middle reaches, however, are dewatered through withdraws during the hot months of summer, segmenting habitat between the upper and lower river. Western Rivers Conservancy has been working in partnership with Colorado Water Trust to return perennial flows to the Little Cimarron. CWT recently wrote a great piece for "Your Water Colorado" blog that explains this project in detail – and how, together, we are making history on this small but important Colorado trout stream.
"When standing on the ranch, you can’t quite see the river. If it’s a good autumn, the snowy peaks of the San Juan Mountains within the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area backstop the narrow valley to the south, and the tops of the turning cottonwoods peek out of a ravine to the west. Just standing there among the cow pies you’d suspect, and be correct, that the river nearby but just out of sight is renewed by those melting snows each spring. The cottonwoods betray the river’s path below the ranch.
During most springs, runoff on the Little Cimarron River that meanders through those cottonwoods fills each water right’s claim to its flows to the brim and then some. Water taken out at the McKinley Ditch headgate upstream winds along the steep slopes and eventually to this tableland, where acres irrigated since federal government patent and first appropriation in 1886 produce hay and cattle. Back at the river, water flows down the Little Cimarron to the Cimarron and eventually to the Gunnison River, upstream of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and then, finally, to the Colorado River."