Locals wonder why Grand County’s least-used stretch of river warrants restrictions | SkyHiNews.com

Locals wonder why Grand County’s least-used stretch of river warrants restrictions

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News

Courtesy photo

Lower Blue River users such as Dave Gage of Kremmling, who has been a paddler on that stretch much longer than Brett Favre played football, worry about future restrictions to “one of the most beautiful places in the state for kayaking.”

To him and others like him, the Bureau of Land Management-driven “Lower Blue River Cooperative Management Plan” is an effort to control a stretch of river that is the least-used in the county.

And for what reason isn’t quite clear to him.

“The Upper Blue above Green Mountain has way more use than Lower Blue, yet they’re singling out the Lower Blue,” said Josh Jarbo, a float fisherman from Granby who has fished that part of the river since 1999.

Jarbo dissected the 38-page plan cover-to-cover and has since disseminated petitions opposing it (located at the Shop and Hop in Kremmling, Ian’s Mountain Bakery in Granby and The Winter Park Pub in Winter Park).

“We’re tired of new fee areas and more restrictions being imposed on us to use our public resources,” he said. “Every time you turn around there’s new fees being put on our public lands.”

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The lower Blue River draft plan suggests setting perimeters for river use, such as “the number of users, the seasonality of use, the types of crafts and activities allowed and acceptable flows for floating and fishing.”

Bureau of Land Management’s Outdoor Recreation Planner Bunny Sterin at the Kremmling office said a group of stakeholders, including government and private landowners along that stretch of river, have been working on the plan for two years. The Lower Blue has never been regulated and concern from those landowners is that the river is experiencing increased use.

In all the years he’s floated or paddled the river, Gage says he’s seen “no more than 10 boats on it in one day. That’s the most I’ve ever seen on it,” he said.

Depending on spring runoff, a 3.7 mile stretch of the river above the Spring Creek Bridge is prime for whitewater rafting up until July.

But only when the water is running above 500 cubic feet per second (CFS) do kayakers challenge the rapids, cautious of the corridor’s bony composition.

“Some years, you’re lucky if you can run it only a few times a year,” Gage said. “It’s hard to maneuver through there.”

But stakeholders crafting the plan say one is needed “to preserve the recreation experience” and prevent it from becoming another over-crowded river “like the Arkansas,” said Ranch Manager Perry Handyside of Blue Valley Ranch, a large property along the river.

The last two years, the private ranch has been collecting data to quantify the number of boats passing by, which the BLM may use.

Handyside said wade fishermen have been known to trespass on the shore.

“It’s not an incredible number,” he said, “but as use grows, inevitably, the trespassing issues grow.”

“By making it permitted water, it doesn’t help the public at all. It’s mostly for the private landowners’ benefit,” Gage said.

Hard data showing the increase in use has not yet been presented. The initial plan has been introduced, to gauge whether a full-blown plan is needed depending on public input, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

“The biggest thing anyone can do about the Blue River right now is comment on the plan,” said Sterin of the BLM. Although the most recent comment period has closed, the public can still have input at public meetings and during comment periods set for later dates, which will be posted on the Summit County site.

“No decisions have been made yet,” she said.

If the plan eventually results in fees, permitting, user quotas or controls put on commercial outfitting, it would be the second length of river in Grand County to be regulated in such a way. The other is on the upper Colorado at Gore Canyon, which the BLM has managed since 1982. Boaters are required to have a recreational use permit, but that stretch of river from Gore Canyon to State Bridge is not regulated by user numbers.

Regarding the lower Blue’s plan to protect the area’s natural resources, Yarbo disagrees with the plan’s premise that those who fish there are causing an impact.

The lower Blue is already designated catch and release, thereby posing little threat to fisheries. And potential for didymo (algae) contamination of the river is “a moot point” with all the recreational water craft in the two reservoirs upstream and in the upper Blue.

“Restricting floaters on the lower Blue will have no effect on the didymo,” he said. “Once the stream is infested, this is a moot point.”

The plan did cite erosion at the put-in and take-outs, which Yarbo agrees is a legitimate concern.

But could that stretch of river one day see user numbers similar to the Colorado River’s Pumphouse to State Bridge?

“I don’t think so,” Gage said. “People who kayak (the Blue) have to be extremely good boaters, it’s very technical.”

And because there are so few places to pull off after the bridge due to private land along the way, the river hardly ever attracts recreational rafts with large groups and families.

“On a good weekend, I’ve seen five people ” raft fishermen ” put in, which I don’t think is over-crowding,” Gage said.

“Now, Pumphouse to State Bridge, that’s crowded.”

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.

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