Eagle, Garfield County commissioners agree: No sweeping changes to Sweetwater Lake, Cottonwood Pass

'Let's keep it so it's a treasure,' Kathy Chandler-Henry says of Sweetwater Lake

Scott Miller
Vail Daily
Sweetwater Lake has been proposed as Colorado's latest state park. Residents oppose the move, and the elected commissioners of Eagle and Garfield counties agree that any improvements should be limited.
Vail Daily archive

If Sweetwater Lake is to become a state park, it doesn’t need to change much.

That was a point of agreement during a Tuesday afternoon meeting between county commissioners from Eagle County and Garfield County. 

Matt Scherr, Kathy Chandler-Henry and Jeanne McQueeney from Eagle County met with John Martin, Tom Jankowski and Mike Samson from Garfield County.

Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll noted that the process by which the park was proposed has left many residents of the Sweetwater Creek area upset with the idea. 

Shroll said the proposal has caused “a lot of needless anxiety” for residents, adding that the most important thing is that the lake and its surroundings are no longer in private hands, and no longer subject to development.

“Everything that was important to residents is important to us,” Shroll said.

Shroll noted that a draft sketch plan for the area essentially provides a relative handful of camping spots — none of which have electric or water hookups. In addition, draft plans have ideas to separate day users, accommodate equestrian uses, and find a way for fewer conflicts with guests’ dogs.

Chandler-Henry called Sweetwater “a unique situation,” adding that no one in county leadership wants to see large recreational vehicles on the road leading to the lake.

Garfield County Manager Fred Jarman noted that the county is staying “pretty quiet” for now, waiting for the start of the U.S. Forest Service’s scoping process under the National Environmental Policy Act. While much of the 12-mile Sweetwater Road is in Eagle County, the lake and its surrounding property are in Garfield County. 

Regulations at the ready

Jarman added that Garfield County has adopted state 1041 regulations. Those regulations allow local governments to regulate various activities, primarily those with environmental impacts.

Eagle County adopted those regulations to have a voice in the battle over the proposed Homestake II reservoir in the 1980s and 1990s. The town of Gypsum adopted those regulations to govern activity at the Eagle County Regional Airport in the years before the town annexed that property.

Jarman said Garfield County adopted its 1041 regulations “as a check on the process” of creating a state park.

While Samson said it’s now “water under the bridge,” he quickly added that the purchase process was “a rotten deal to start with.”

Samson agreed with Shroll that both sets of elected officials need to pay close attention to residents’ wishes and work with a long-term view.

“We want to make sure there’s guarantees” for 20 years and more in the future, Samson said.

When Chandler-Henry asked her counterparts what Eagle County officials should be doing, Martin was succinct.

“Voice your opinion — argue a little bit,” Martin said. “You don’t learn anything if you just sit and agree.”

Chandler-Henry said she believes the two boards are on the same page regarding the lake.

“Let’s keep it so it’s a treasure,” she said. “It’s such a gem of a place,” she added, noting that if guests want a “big scene,” they can go to Sylvan Lake.

Cottonwood Pass

The boards also seemed to agree on the future of Cottonwood Pass Road. Both boards agreed the road should remain a county road through both counties.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is nearly finished with a plan to improve the road in spots. That plan maintains the road’s current status as a county road.

Shroll, who said he often takes the road traveling from Eagle to El Jebel, said there are “concerns we’ve had forever” about the road, particularly blind curves and narrow stretches.

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But in the wake of the Grizzly Creek Fire in 2020 and flooding in 2021 that poured countless cubic yards of debris on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon, Jarman noted that officials have to “find a way to bomb-proof the canyon better,” adding that there has to be a lot of money funneled into those projects.

Cottonwood Pass “cannot be a bypass for I-70,” Martin said, adding that the road — which isn’t open in the winter — needs to remain a county road that sees mostly local use.

“We agree,” Chandler-Henry said.

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