The primary boat ramp at Elkhead Reservoir is scheduled to close at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Still, park manager Ron DellaCroce said the season is far from over.
“It’s important for people to understand that the lake is not closed,” DellaCroce said. “Just that primary boat ramp. People can still come out and fish from shore, hand launch boats, camp, duck hunt and use the beaches.”
DellaCroce said he’s heard a common question as of late: why close the ramp considering the late start to this year’s fishing season and the recent warm weather?
The short answer: money.
“It’s one of those cost/benefit things,” DellaCroce said. “People are starting to change the game right now. Hunting is starting and we’re getting into the fall mode a little bit.
“It just gets to the point where it is too expensive to staff someone out there to inspect two or three or four boats. Late in the season it can cost us $80 to $100 per boat on the water.”
DellaCroce said it is critical to keep the lake clean of Aquatic Nuisance Species, namely the Zebra Mussel, because Elkhead is the primary source of water for Craig Station and the city.
The Zebra Mussel, DellaCroce said, will change the biological makeup of a body of water. It acts as a super filter consuming all of the nutrients fish and other wildlife species depend on. It can also wreak havoc on infrastructure.
“They have such a high volume of propagation they will actually get inside utilities systems and totally plug them,” DellaCroce said. “It would be devastating to the city’s water infrastructure if they were to get into the water plant.”
DellaCroce said the ramp’s closing is also due to the state’s fiscal calendar, which runs from July to June.
“So, if we were to extend the season in the fall, we would have to shorten it up in the spring,” DellaCroce said.
In spite of the short fishing season, which was delayed because of spring runoff, DellaCroce said this was a banner year for the park in terms of visitation.
According to internal records, DellaCroce said visitor use days increased by 11 percent from July 2010 through September 2011.
The total number of visitor use days during the 15-month time period was 150,000.
However, that’s not to say the park hosted 150,000 total visitors, DellaCroce said.
“We track the impacts on the park per visitor on any given day,” DellaCroce said. “So, if you fish in the morning and then stay to camp, you are counted twice because you’re accessing different features of the park.”
DellaCroce estimated the park receives 10,000 actual visitors during a peak summer month.
“Elkhead is unique because we are not an (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) community,” DellaCroce said. “Because of the variety of shifts people work, it is not unlikely to have visitors at the lake from six in the morning until 10 or 12 at night.”
Boat inspections also rose by 5.7 percent between July 2010 and September 2011. As an added bonus, the number of boats coming from Zebra Mussel-infected waters dropped from 22 to 13.
DellaCroce credited the local community with Elkhead’s success, both in terms of visitation and keeping the lake clean.
“Elkhead is one of the largest warm water fisheries in the area,” DellaCroce said. “It’s in our backyard. People can leave work and be on the water within 20 minutes and we are committed to maintaining that opportunity for people.
“Locals work hand-in-hand with us to keep this fishery clean. They understand why we’re there and what we do and they are a big reason why it works.”
In other park news,
DellaCroce said Elkhead was recently awarded a $34,000 state trails grant that was administered by Colorado State Parks.
He said a recreational trail project has been in the works for the last two years and the goal is to bring five miles of multi-use trails to Elkhead by next summer.
Trail construction is scheduled to begin in the next two weeks.
DellaCroce said there is a lot of mechanical work to be done on the front end, but that final prep is going to require a lot of hands on work.
“We are really excited about this trail project because it has been a long time coming,” DellaCroce said. “We would really, really love to hear from people if they have interest in doing some volunteer work at the lake.”
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