Lakes abound in Grand County
Sky-Hi Daily News
Hosting the historic headwaters of the Colorado River, Grand County is known as Colorado’s “Great Lakes” region, with a network of reservoirs and canals built to feed water to lower elevation communities and ranches.
Included in the network are the deep blue alpine waters of Grand Lake ” Colorado’s largest natural lake ” where Native Americans once summered on its shores.
In the shadow of Mount Craig, once called “Spirit Lake” by tribes for its mystical qualities, Grand Lake endures today as a revered vacation spot for thousands of visitors and property owners.
At 8,366 feet in elevation, Grand Lake shares with tributaries in the Kawuneeche Valley of Rocky Mountain National Park the prestige of being the original headwaters of the great Colorado River. It’s maximum depth is estimated to be around 265 feet, and because water is pumped through the natural body of water to the 13.1 mile-long Adams Tunnel over the Continental Divide as part of a transmountain water diversion system called the Colorado Big Thompson Project (C-BT), by law, the lake’s surface elevation is not allowed to fluctuate greater than one foot.
The lake shares its northern shoreline with the town of Grand Lake and has two marinas, the Grand Lake Marina and Headwaters Marina, as well as the century-old Grand Lake Yacht Club, deemed the highest-elevation yacht club in the world. A public boat launch is located at the east inlet of Grand Lake at the end of West Portal Road.
Connected to Grand Lake by a channel to the southwest is Shadow Mountain Reservoir, a 1,400 acre boating and water-sports lake where large osprey birds can be spotted high up in the trees on osprey-protected shores and islands. Trail Ridge Marina sits on Shadow’s northern shore.
Next on our journey against-the-flow is Lake Granby, Colorado’s second largest body of water (Blue Mesa in southwestern Colorado is larger) located about five miles from the town of Granby. Located on the Colorado River, the 7,256-acre reservoir first held water in the fall of 1949, built to hold water for the Front Range Greeley area as part of the C-BT project. Anglers flock to Lake Granby for its stocked rainbow trout, brown trout, kokanee salmon and Mackinaw, and campers and boaters enjoy Lake Granby’s diverse recreational opportunities and its scenic 40 miles of shoreline.
Three marinas cater to boaters’ needs, accessed off of Highway 34: Beacon Landing Marina, Grand Elk Marina and Highland Marina.
As part of the Forest Service’s Arapaho National Recreation Area, a fee is required to camp and recreate at Lake Granby and its neighbor to the east Monarch Lake. The Forest Service acquired Monarch reservoir and surrounding land in 1962, and ever since, it has been a pristine escape with a trail that circumvents the 150-acre lake, welcoming to non-motorized crafts. Trails sprout from the Monarch trail to higher-elevation lakes in the Indian Peak Wilderness.
Use fees may be paid at self-service stations located around the ANRA, at the Sulphur Ranger District in Granby, from campground hosts and at some area businesses.
Also as part of the C-BT collection system is Willow Creek Reservoir, a perfect escape for canoeing and fishing. According to the Forest Service, power boats are allowed but are restricted to “no wake speed.” With 7 shoreline miles, Willow Creek has a maximum depth of 124 feet. Built in the early 1950s, Willow Creek pumps water 175 feet to the Willow Creek Supply Canal, where it flows a quarter mile into Lake Granby.
Moving on, at the most remote area of the ANRA is 50-acre Meadow Creek Reservoir, sitting regally at about10,000 feet in elevation. This lake is open to non-motorized watercraft only, and according to the U.S. Forest Service, is reserved for visitors who prefer camping and fishing in an undeveloped area.
Windy Gap Reservoir, just outside of the town of Granby, is a quiet body of water along Highway 40 where fishing and all types of boating are restricted. Picnic areas line its western shore and are a suitable place to watch wildlife and birds.
Further west in Grand County are two more reservoirs that help serve the power and water needs of the residents of Denver. Near the sleepy town of Parshall, the Williams Fork Reservoir at an elevation of 7,800-plus is a stocked lake with two boat ramps and campgrounds. But as a precaution this summer through June at least, the reservoir is closed to motorized boats due to the threat of the invasive zebra mussel, the larvae of which was discovered in Colorado’s Pueblo Lake. As a precaution, there is a chance boaters will be subject to boat inspections in this and perhaps other lakes later in the summer to prevent the non-native aquatic nuisance species from destroying boats and lake habitat.
Wolford Mountain Reservoir, the last stop on our lake tour of Grand County is Muddy Creek, five miles north of Kremmling, where Wolford Mountain Reservoir offers 1,550 surface acres for recreation and on-shore activities. Among them are boat rentals, fish cleaning stations, boat ramps, picnic areas, camping, wildlife viewing and water sports. Wolford benefits residents and visitors on both sides of the Continental Divide, as Denver Water may use up to 40 percent of the water in exchange for financial support of the reservoir.
So suit up, Grand County is considered Colorado’s water playground, with an estimated 11,000 acres of liquid blue summertime fun.
The bulk of information for this story was gleaned from the following: the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s http://www.ncwcd.org, Denver Water’s http://www.denverwater.org, the U.S. Forest Service, Sulphur Ranger District’s http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/arnf/index.shtml and the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s http://www.crwcd.org. To learn more, facts, tips and rules on the reservoirs mentioned, check out any of these informative Web sites.
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Grand Lake officials will discuss next week a plan to halt new construction in downtown Grand Lake.