Sweetwater Lake. Photo courtesy of Eagle Valley Wild

Although it’s over the hill and through the woods, Sweetwater Lake is still part of Garfield County and of particular interest to outdoor enthusiasts. 

For decades, the acreage has fluctuated between private landowners but was recently sold, yet again, to the most attractive bidder: the federal government. 

The 488 acre purchase was financed by the federal Water and Land Conservation Fund and the acquisition did not come easy. Eagle Valley Land Trust (EVLT), the Conservation Fund and the U.S. Forest Service led a “Save the Lake” campaign for years before closing the deal in August 2021. 

The Conservation Fund transferred the land to the Forest Service to be added into the White River National Forest. 

This public park will be the first of its kind to be owned by the federal government but managed by the state of Colorado. Governor Jared Polis announced in September 2021 that it will become an official Colorado State Park. 

EVLT, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the Forest Service are now partnering to create a suitable management plan for the lake and surrounding area. These agencies are inviting the public to chime in on the process, online or in-person. 

Two of three scheduled community open houses took place in Gypsum on Jan. 25 and Feb. 2. Folks on this side of Glenwood Canyon will get their chance to partake in the discussion, in-person, on Feb. 9 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Library. 

“We have kind of an unprecedented opportunity to give this place a refresh and make a really valuable asset for our entire community,” explained EVLT Deputy Director Bergen Tjossem. “We want to interface directly with the public and better understand how we can make that happen.” 

The deputy director emphasized that the easiest and most effective way for a member of the public to pass along their thoughts is by completing the survey, which can be found at www.evlt.org/sweetwater 

“The more people that take that,” said Tjossem, “the better idea we have of how we can best serve our community and make sure that Sweetwater Lake is an asset for our community going forward.” He added, “We also hope that people join us for the next open house.” 

According to Tjossem, the area is somewhat of a “hidden gem” and hasn’t been too negatively impacted by recreationalists in the past. “There will be some increase in traffic, but we’re looking at ways to mitigate those impacts,” he said. 

Currently, there are no services  on the property. In the future, they will likely enhance the boat dock, bring the existing structures up to code and add trash and bathroom services. 

Cultural significance

One paramount concern is the preservation of a cultural site significant to the Utes who inhabited the region prior to their forced relocation in the early 1880s, Tjossem explained. He mentioned that there will be short-term management measures in place to protect the site in the immediate future. “Cultural resource specialists from the Forest Service and CPW are working on that right now,” he assured. “We’re in this sensitive transition and we want to make sure it’s protected before people start going there,” said Tjossem.

In the long-term, Tjossem estimated that the management plan will include public access and viewing of the archeological find, noting its educational significance. 

Glenwood Springs Historical Society Director Bill Kight told The Sopris Sun, the thing people need to remember is that this land was their home, he said of the Utes. 

The Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 prohibits the defacing or altering in any way of cultural inheritance sites. According to the National Parks Service’s website, “For a felony offense, first-time offenders can be fined up to $20,000 and imprisoned for up to one year. Second-time felony offenders can be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned for up to five years.”