National Forest State Park

Sweetwater Lake, located in remote northeastern Garfield County in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, is set to become Colorado’s first state park on federal land after it was acquired by the U.S. Forest Service in August 2021.

“Colorado’s first state park on federal land.”  This came across as an oxymoron, but why not?

This land acquisition followed a common pattern, where a non-profit conservancy (The Conservation Fund) acquired private property until the federal government had the funds (Land and Water Conservation Fund) to purchase it and add it to a national forest (White River).  (From Colorado Parks & Wildlife, linked below.)

This Land and Water Conservation Fund purchase followed the acquisition of the property in 2020 by The Conservation Fund, which was made possible by a loan from Great Outdoors Colorado and local fundraising efforts such as the “Save the Lake” Campaign organized by Eagle Valley Land Trust.

A little less common (to me any way), the Conservation Fund is also continuing to fund management, according the Eagle Valley Land Trust:

“We’re also excited to announce our Sweetwater Lake Stewardship and Equity Fund, which will assist the Eagle Valley Land Trust and our agency partners in activating the property for public use and enhancing opportunities for underserved communities to enjoy the space for years to come.”

There is an existing Forest Service campground on adjacent land.  The Forest Service had this to say in the formal announcement from Governor Polis:

“Sweetwater Lake has tremendous ecological and cultural values and outstanding opportunities for recreation.  This partnership allows the White River National Forest to incorporate the local expertise of the Eagle Valley Land Trust and the recreation management and wildlife expertise of Colorado Parks and Wildlife to best serve visitors to the area,” said Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Frank Beum.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife added:

“Colorado Parks and Wildlife is excited to modernize facilities and provide updated and sustainable recreational services through this partnership. Our main priority is to conserve the unique character of the area while improving access to this incredible property,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Dan Prenzlow.

None of this said much about the State’s authority and responsibility, but I don’t know why they couldn’t lease the site and manage it as a permittee.  I don’t know if any other states have done anything like this, but as questions continue to come up about how to manage growing outdoor recreation this might be an option in some other places.

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