By Steven Bonifazi
(GARFIELD COUNTY, Colo.) Gov. Jared Polis announced Wednesday a partnership between Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service (White River National Forest) and Eagle Valley Land Trust (EVLT) that will create the Centennial State's 43rd State Park in the Sweetwater Lake area.
The partners are currently working towards developing a long-term management plan to enhance recreational facilities and uphold the Sweetwater Lake area's character and uniqueness.
“Sweetwater Lake is simply gorgeous, and has great potential for even more recreational opportunities like a campground,” Governor Polis said in a press release. “This is the first of its kind partnership in Colorado to create a state park on U.S. Forest Service land, and we look forward to working with our partners and Coloradans with the ultimate goal of adding Sweetwater Lake to Colorado’s world-class state park system for fun, conservation, education, and to support job growth for the region."
The 488-acre Sweetwater Ranch located in Garfield County was acquired by the White River National Forest on Aug. 31, 2021, through a federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) purchase. LWCF identified the area as one of its ten top-priority purchases across the nation so that public recreation opportunities can be increased in addition to ensuring that the area's wildlife habitat, cultural and scenic values are protected.
Existing public access to Sweetwater lake is increased notably through the acquisition of the property, yet there is currently little infrastructure in place to facilitate public recreation. There will be new and improved facilities available to the public by June 1, 2022, such as a new boat launch.
“Colorado Parks and Wildlife is excited to modernize facilities and provide updated and sustainable recreational services through this partnership. Our main priority is to conserve the unique character of the area while improving access to this incredible property,” said CPW Director Dan Prenzlow.
Gov. Polis signed the Keep Colorado Wild Pass bill in June this year to develop an affordable state park and public lands pass that will provide greater access to outdoor recreation opportunities. The Outdoor Equity Grant Program which was also signed into law in June aims to increase access and opportunities to the state's outdoors to underserved youth and their families.
Sweetwater Lake is the second State Park behind Fishers Peak in Trinidad that was created under the Polis administration. Colorado currently has over 22 million acres of public lands including wetlands, forests, canyons and mountain lakes.
“Sweetwater Lake is a hidden gem, both as a destination and gateway to the Flat Top Wilderness. The partnership formed to protect and manage this unique landscape is an extension of the state and federal commitment to shared stewardship, which the Governor and U.S.D.A. initiated in 2019,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.”