Photo by Ben McCanna

Statistics indicate visitations increasing at Elkhead State Park



Maureen Underhill, a boat inspector at Elkhead State Park, stands near the water’s edge Thursday afternoon. The park had a 32-percent increase in visitation during the summer. Statistics indicate 80,000 visitors fished, boated, camped, and swam at Elkhead this year.


Maureen Underhill, a boat inspector at Elkhead State Park, stands on the beach at the water’s edge. This summer, 3,500 boats were in inspected by Underhill and her colleagues. Only 13 boats were in need of decontamination.

Aside from two boat inspectors on duty, Elkhead State Park was nearly empty Thursday afternoon. The inspectors had good ideas as to why.

“It’s too windy for boats today,” inspector Maureen Underhill said of the strong autumn winds that pushed through the Yampa Valley.

“September (attendance) always drops off because of school and hunting,” inspector Stacy Kapferer added.

Thursday was one of few slow days the park has had in recent months. Park officials released Thursday statistics for the summer that revealed increased attendance.

“(It was) a really good season at the lake,” park manager Ron DellaCroce said.

“We’re pretty close to 80,000 visitors this summer. We’re up 32 percent over last year, which is pretty big with the economic times the way they are.”

DellaCroce attributes favorable fishing conditions to the park’s busier season.

“The draw is our warm-water fishery,” he said. “People just absolutely love the smallmouth and pike.”

Word has spread of the good fishing at Elkhead, DellaCroce said.

“We’re definitely seeing more people coming out to the reservoir, and we’re seeing more than just our local contingent,” DellaCroce said. “We’re seeing a lot of folks from the Grand Junction area and Rifle. Even some of the Denver folks are coming up.”

The rise in newcomers to the lake also means an increased risk of nuisance species, the park manager contends.

“The biggest change in the management makeup of the reservoir is … aquatic nuisance-species, like zebra mussels,” DellaCroce said.

DellaCroce said the invasive mussels have been found in lakes in Utah and the Front Range. The species are known to destroy habitats and foul up boats and equipment.

“(Zebra mussels) would ruin the reservoir,” Kapferer said.

DellaCroce agreed.

“It’s critical that we keep these (species) out of the lake,” he said. “And that’s why we do our boat inspections.”

Boat inspections take place at the Elkhead boat ramp seven days a week.

“This summer, we inspected over 3,500 boats between Memorial Day and Labor Day,” DellaCroce said. “Of that 3,500, we decontaminated 13 boats.”

Underhill said the inspectors have a portable decontamination trailer to deal with dirty boats.

A boat is subject to decontamination if it has standing water in the bilge or livewells, if the hull is obscured by dirt or growth, or if the boat has been in “positive water.”

“In other words, (if the boat has) been in a lake that’s definitely infested,” Underhill said.

The process for decontamination is simple, Underhill said.

“You pretty much wash the boat with really hot water.”

The efforts of the inspectors are paying off, DellaCroce said.

“We’re looking really good,” he said. “The U.S. Division of Wildlife is monitoring the reservoir, and we have been negative.”

Summer statistics also revealed that there were no boating accidents at Elkhead during the 2010 season.

“We consider that a successful boating season,” DellaCroce said. “Everybody went home happy and healthy.”

DellaCroce plans to close the boat ramp Oct. 1.

The park will remain open afterward to hand-launch boats, hiking and fishing, and camping will be available throughout the hunting seasons.

In the meantime, the boat ramp remains open and inspections will continue to take place seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

On Thursday, standing near an empty parking lot by the lake, Kapferer sighed.

“It would be nice if it was busy,” she said.


craiggirl 6 years, 6 months ago

I'm glad to hear that the number of visitors is up at Elkhead this year. But over 80,000 visitors? How can that even be possible? The lake is iced over for more than half the year. I'd like to know where the Park Officials are getting the data.


Frank Estey 6 years, 6 months ago

Probably include the wildlife and their skewed method of population count.


Really 6 years, 6 months ago

Just because there is ice on the lake doesn't mean people don't use it. There's ice fishing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, etc. You are probably one of those people who hates winter because there's nothing to do.


craiggirl 6 years, 6 months ago

Really...ok, even if you factor in ALL 365 days/year (including all of the -20 degree days) that's still almost 220 people/day. I'm curious where the State Park employees are getting their data. It's hard to fathom.


als362 6 years, 6 months ago

It would be my guess that the Craig Daily Press misreported and/or misprinted another story. I would also guess the number is supposed to be 8000 not 80,000.


als362 6 years, 6 months ago

The paper cannot even spell Mr. Dellacroce's name correctly. How can they expect to get a number correct?


als362 6 years, 6 months ago

Also with the attendance numbers being higher than before. That should tell all those that have the illusion of being harassed, claiming less people are using Elkhead. With more people using the park more than ever, that does not tell me that people are being harassed or in any way used or abused at Elkhead.


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