On a recent Sunday morning, I took a leisurely jog along the Colorado Riverfront Trail with my dogs and gained a renewed appreciation for the variety of ways locals enjoy our rivers.
Several bikers and strollers passed by on the Audubon Section of the trail, which was made fragrant by three-leafed sumac and Russian olive. The latter is actually an invasive pest, but at least it perfumes the air and looks pretty while it crowds out other species. A small woodpecker clung to the trunk of one of the large cottonwoods that shaded the path.
In the Connected Lakes area, scattered anglers dipped their lines into the reclaimed gravel pits. Ducks paddled serenely across the smooth waters, while the sun shone gold off the cliffs of the Colorado National Monument in the background. A blue heron took flight before I could snap a picture of it standing in the shallows.
The river, full and swift with spring runoff, carried several rafts. On one, a black lab stood facing into the wind under a large shade canopy.
In addition to enjoying the natural beauty of the riverine environment, I was also enjoying the fruits of decades of labor by community visionaries and volunteers. It’s hard to believe now, but in 1985 there were no parks along the Colorado River in the Grand Valley, and the river was lined with industrial sites, uranium tailings, and acres of junked cars.
A recent paper prepared for the City of Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Department by Colorado Mesa University students Jonathan Carr and Claire Kempa, under the direction of Professor Steve Schulte and Recreation Superintendent Traci Wieland, chronicles the transformation of the valley’s riverfront. The paper focuses on the “Las Colonias” section near downtown Grand Junction. Restoration of that area began establishment of a network of parks and trails that make up the “string of pearls” now stretching from DeBeque Canyon to Fruita.
You can find the paper online:www.gjcity.org/Parks_and_Recreation/Parks_and_Recreation_Projects/Las_Colonias_Park.aspx.
Trails I was enjoying, along with the soon-to-be-developed Las Colonias Park, are part of an extensive trail network developed over more than two decades to link Palisade, Grand Junction and Fruita along the Colorado River. Palisade hasn’t been completely linked in yet, but work continues.
The Colorado Riverfront Commission (http://riverfrontproject.org) oversees the development and maintenance of the trails, as well as hosting a riverfront concert series. Maps are available on the commission’s website. You can also learn how to volunteer or make a donation to play your own part in continuing the legacy of restoring the Grand Valley’s riverfront.
This article is a reprint from a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center at www.Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU orwww.Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.