Graduate students visit Yampa River Diversion Park project in Craig | CraigDailyPress.com

Graduate students visit Yampa River Diversion Park project in Craig

Michelle Balleck special to the Craig Press

CRAIG — Work to improve recreational opportunities on the river near Craig is slated to receive new technical support.

Several students from the University of Colorado's Masters of the Environment program visited Craig on Sept. 22 for an introduction to the Yampa River Diversion Park project and to begin work on assisting with community development planning.

In the graduate course, "Sustainable Landscapes, Sustainable Livelihoods," the students are focusing on tackling complex issues in communities with transitioning economies in the American West. Joel Hartter, CU associate professor and MENV faculty director, joined the students on the visit.

"We are excited to partner with leaders in Craig and Moffat County to help develop this recreation and municipal asset that has wide-reaching effects," Hartter said. "This project and the community dynamics embody the type of work our students will be tackling once they graduate. We feel fortunate to have a real-world project that can help prepare them for their careers."

The students have individually chosen between the Moffat County project and one focused on visitor use and access at Quandary Peak south of Breckenridge. The students focused on the Moffat County project will return at least twice during the semester to meet with stakeholders and gather information for their project. They will present their findings in December.

Fourth-generation cattle rancher and former Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson, current Commissioner Frank Moe and Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership Executive Director Michelle Balleck explained efforts to diversify the local economy.

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Rob Schenck, captain of the Northwest Colorado Chapter of Parrotheads, led the discussion about the project logistics. He became involved with the project after a friend broke her tailbone on the diversion infrastructure and several other residents popped tubes while floating by.

The city of Craig considers the project critical as it seeks to build out recreation assets and improve the water intake system. The students’ plan will tie into existing economic development plans and be incorporated with the city’s parks and recreation master plan, which is planned to be updated soon.

Dickinson said the river is a critical asset and one the community should capitalize on.

"Moffat County is an export economy. Always has been," Dickinson said. "Water is economics and future economic growth."

Schenck said  Friends of the Yampa, a nonprofit organization focused on the entirety of the river's expanse, received a grant through Yampa Valley Community Foundation to complete the preliminary engineering and site concept for the Moffat County project. Parrotheads has collected about $7,000 in personal donations toward the project. The group is currently applying for grants funds to complete the $1.2-million park, which also includes camping sites, parking areas and a playground. If those asks are successful, Schenck said he'd like to begin construction in September 2018, the earliest in the season to gain access.

Kent Vertrees, Friends of the Yampa board member, explained to the students the lessons learned through the similar Steamboat Whitewater Park in Steamboat Springs.

"This is one of the last wild rivers in the American West," Vertrees said. "This river, on a report card scale, is an A+."

His advice included involving all pertinent parties and garnering community buy-in as early as possible in the project timeline. Dickson urged the students to think through all viewpoints and contributing factors when working on this development and all future projects in their careers.

The students who chose to work on the Moffat County project have begun research on the community's existing plans and work completed. They will return soon to continue meeting with stakeholders and create a plan of action for the diversion project.

For more information, contact CMEDP at 620-4370 or director@cmedp.com.