From the drawing board to real life

Elkhead Reservoir plans progressing

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Every Wednesday for two years, individuals representing the city of Craig, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Colorado State Parks and Ames Construction have been meeting at Elkhead Reservoir, imagining the way things could be at the county's largest lake.

Plans like boats towing water-skiers, camping, fishing and swimming at the new reservoir are moving closer from the drawing board to real-life experiences.

For Ron Dellacroce, Colorado State Parks Manager, the work is just beginning.

"Because of the size of the project, we couldn't build until Ames Construction was finished with the dam work," he said. "As soon as the snow is off, we'll go in and start work."

The work Dellacroce referred to is an ambitious $8 million master plan that includes recreation facilities never imagined at the old reservoir.

"The landscape has changed at Elkhead. When the dam was raised, they nearly doubled the size of the lake," Dellacroce said. "They moved 400,000 yards of dirt. Those borrow areas (where fill for the dam was removed) make nice campgrounds."

The plan is to develop hardened campsites on the lake's east and west sides.

Campgrounds aren't expected to be up and running by the time boats hit the water, Dellacroce warns. Much of the campground work cannot be completed until the water has reached higher levels, likely near mid-summer 2007.

What already is completed and ready for the public is an improved boat ramp and bathrooms on the east side of the reservoir.

"We added 100 feet to the length of the boat ramp, and increased the width from 26 feet to 55 feet," he said. "Eventually, we'll have improved parking lots and beaches there."

That improved boat ramp is good news to Burt Clements and Norm Fedde, members of Yampa Valley Bassmasters.

"Realistically, it will take three years before the lake returns to good fishing," Fedde said. "We need to push for stocking the lake."

Clements and Fedde would like to see the bass population climb to what it was before construction began. That requires stocking food-source fish for the bass, such as crappie and bluegills, which have "tremendous spawns," Clements said.

A hand-launch boat ramp also will be available on the east side of the lake for kayaks, rafts and canoes, Dellacroce said. That will allow quicker access to good fishing areas for non-motorized craft.

"We asked them to leave the old detour road in place for use as a soft-surface ramp," he said. "When the water backs up on the north end of the lake, that should be great fishing."

The same buoy lines that existed at the old lake will be in place at the new lake. No-wake areas will remain the same until officials determine what is working and what is a problem, Dellacroce said.

Another thing the public won't be seeing at Elkhead is groves of trees. Shade trees don't grow well in the high desert, so the master plan includes a number of man-made shelters and windbreaks at campgrounds and day-use areas.

Colorado State Parks will operate Elkhead recreational facilities and parks passes or daily use fees will be required for visitors. No camping is allowed until the campgrounds are completed.

Water levels are expected to fluctuate about 10 feet each year as the primary water users, the city and Tri-State Generation and Transmission, make demands on the reservoir.

Future plans for the reservoir include replacing a number of trails that were lost to the rising water. The city is applying for Great Outdoors Colorado grants -- lottery-generated funds earmarked for recreation -- that are designated for projects including public trails.

Trails at the lake will cater to hikers, bikers and horseback riders.

Colorado State Parks also will need to raise more money to complete many of the master plan projects. State Parks money comes from lottery ticket sales throughout Colorado.

Preliminary work at the reservoir is taking place, thanks to money from the Yampa River Legacy Project, which includes Colorado State Parks, the Bureau of Land Management, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, Hayden, Craig, Steamboat Springs and Moffat and Routt Counties.

Dellacroce would someday like to see electricity reach the campgrounds, where fall hunters might be encouraged to set up camps.

Plans are in the works for a public meeting in late winter or early spring, and an open house around the Fourth of July is planned.

Public input is encouraged by Colorado State Parks. Dellacroce can be reached at 276-2061.

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com.

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