Nicky Boulger pointed out her office window Thursday toward yellow excavators digging into black mud at the Wyman Museum.
“I can die now,” Boulger joked. “This was my final goal in life.”
Boulger was referring to adding fish to an ox bow pond on the museum grounds.
She wants anglers 16 and younger, 64 and older, and the disabled to be able to cast a line into the water and enjoy leisurely summer afternoons at the facility. And hopefully, she said, the attraction will help boost tourism in Craig.
It is a project that began with a simple idea in 2005 and is now coming to fruition with the arrival of heavy machinery.
But, the story really begins nearly 100 years ago, with the arrival of the railroad.
In 1913, engineers were laying tracks for a railroad line from Steamboat Springs to Craig.
When they reached the present-day location of the museum, engineers discovered a problem. The Yampa River arched north against a bluff.
The engineers had two costly options. They could either lay tracks alongside the bend in the river, or they could erect two bridges to span the bend and maintain a straight line for the tracks.
Instead, the engineers created a third option.
They straightened the river by cutting a new channel.
Since then, a straight length of train tracks has run parallel to the channel and the discarded half-mile bend in the river has deteriorated into a marsh.
Fast forward to 2005.
Boulger, then the new museum office manager, hatched a plan in an unlikely place.
“My ideas come when I’m taking a shower,” Boulger said. “I don’t know why.”
One of the challenges Boulger said the museum continually faces is how to entertain children while their parents or grandparents stroll the museum.
“People go to Disneyland because they have so much to offer,” Boulger said. “Mom, dad, the grandparents and the kids are all taken care of in one spot.”
Boulger was thinking about that forgotten little piece of the Yampa River when inspiration struck.
“I thought, ‘You know, it would be fun to fish in that,’” Boulger recalled.
However, the marsh, or ox bow pond, wasn’t deep enough to support fish. So, Boulger set out to deepen it, never guessing it would take another six years for the idea to build toward reality.
Cost was the first major obstacle, Boulger said. The excavation work, which includes dredging, landscaping, dikes and culverts, is estimated to cost $120,000.
In 2007, the museum began receiving donations. They received $5,000 from the Moffat County Tourism Association, $2,500 from the Kenneth King Foundation, and an undisclosed amount from former Craig Police Department Chief Glen Sherman.
Next, the effort got a big push from the Colorado Division of Wildlife when Boulger discussed the plan with District Wildlife Manager Mike Bauman.
Bauman said the idea sounded like a winner.
“Yeah, it did,” Bauman said. “We, at the Division of Wildlife, are always looking for opportunities to enhance fishing and hunting access for the public. So, when she developed that idea, yeah, we just jumped all over it.”
Bauman made Boulger aware of a DOW program called Fishing is Fun. The program had awarded grant money to other Craig projects, like improvements to the pond at the Moffat County Public Safety Center and Loudy-Simpson Park.
Boulger applied and awaited a response.
In the meantime, however, nature intervened.
Boulger said a group of Colorado State University students discovered the museum grounds are an important habitat.
“We have the largest leopard frog population in the state of Colorado, according to CSU,” she said. “There’s thousands of them.”
In response, Boulger scaled back her original vision of the project.
“Well, if we had fish in there, they would eat the (tadpoles), and that would impact the leopard frogs,” she said. “Our idea was instead of dredging the whole (ox bow) and impacting the whole frog population, we’d build a dike across it.”
The dike, which has been bulldozed into the apex of the ox bow, will keep fish on one side and frogs on the other.
“That way the frog population still has a chance to grow and thrive,” Boulger said.
The DOW grant eventually came through, to the tune of $75,000.
Last fall, the agency gave Boulger the green light.
On Monday, Anson Excavating & Pipe began digging.
“Finally this week the temperature is right, the planets have aligned…they’re rocking and rolling out there,” she said. “It’s finally going to happen.”
Boulger said Moffat County’s newest body of water will be named for one of its donors.
“This will be the Sherman Park Ox Bow,” she said.
Sherman said he was happy the project has begun and he’s proud it bears his name.
“Lou Wyman told me he was going to name the park after me,” he said, choking back tears. “I get emotional, I’m sorry.”
Mike Swaro, another DOW district wildlife manager, said his agency will stock the pond with rainbow trout this spring or summer.
The fish will be stocked for free, he said.
“Through the Division of Wildlife we stock different ponds,” Swaro said. “Since that (museum) project provides an opportunity for kids to get out there and get interested in fishing, it seems like a good avenue for the division.”
Sherman said he plans to someday drop a hook into his namesake pond.
“I’ll have to, yes,” he said.
Boulger said she has future plans to add trails, barbecue pits, picnic tables and more to the land inside the ox bow, but she’ll have to raise more money first.
“I’ll have to re-apply for something else,” she said. “Baby steps, right?”
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