Garfield County’s Sweetwater Lake posturing a point of contention in District 1 commissioner race

Gordon challenges spending for legal assistance

On the water at Sweetwater Lake on the southeastern side of the Flat Tops area.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

The challenger for Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky’s seat in the November election questions the use of taxpayer dollars for legal services in the county’s dispute with state and federal officials over plans to develop a state park at Sweetwater Lake.

“I don’t think that’s an appropriate use of the taxpayers’ money,” Democrat Ryan Gordon said this week of the commissioners’ recent unanimous decision to allocate an additional $30,000 — on top of the $30,000 already spent — for a Phoenix-based law firm to represent the county’s interests in the Sweetwater Lake deal.

Garfield County Commissioner District 1 Democratic candidate Ryan Gordon.
John Stroud/Post Independent

“Ultimately, this is about trying to preserve Sweetwater Lake, and I wouldn’t want to see this project go backwards,” Gordon said. “A better tactic, as opposed to being antagonistic, is to work cooperatively with the stakeholders and come up with a plan everyone can agree on.”

Jankovsky, a Republican seeking a fourth four-year term as commissioner in the Nov. 8 election, said that’s exactly what the county intends as it seeks formal cooperating agency status with the U.S. Forest Service as it conducts an environmental analysis of the park proposal.

“I think eventually it will be a park,” he said in a recent interview.

The county’s involvement — including paying for legal research into the way the land deal was handled and ensuring the proper review process is followed — seeks to ensure the management plan encompasses the county’s concerns and those of the neighboring residents.

Incumbent Republican Garfield County District 1 Commissioner Tom Jankovsky.
John Stroud/Post Independent

“We’re just asking them to slow down … and to make sure this process satisfies the neighborhood up there,” Jankovsky said. “It’s really just to make sure people are heard.”

Commissioners have been vocal in their opposition to plans announced last fall to turn the site into a new state park, after the previous privately-owned 488-acre property transferred to the forest service.

The remote lake, located in northeastern Garfield County but accessed through neighboring Eagle County, was operated as a private hunting retreat for several decades.

After the private owners floated possible development plans for the site in recent years, including a water-bottling plant and a golf-course subdivision, the Eagle Valley Land Trust launched the Save the Lake campaign to try to preserve it.

“Clearly, it needs to be preserved, and the county absolutely has to be involved,” Gordon said, noting the roads and other infrastructure serving the area, as well as many of the residents, are in Garfield County.

“But, I think it’s best to sit down and have fruitful conversations and draft a memorandum of understanding that takes into consideration these concerns,” he said.

Threatening legal action “just puts everyone back on their heels and doesn’t accomplish anything,” he said. 

In addition to approving the additional legal expenses, the commissioners at their Sept. 12 meeting sent a proposed cooperating agency agreement to the forest service. 

The agreement recognizes the forest service as the lead agency in conducting the environmental analysis. Commissioners have requested a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement, as opposed to the more streamlined Environmental Assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The proposal offers that the county can provide some expertise “on issues such as socioeconomics and transportation that should be addressed.”

Jankovsky is proposed to be the county’s representative in the dealings with the forest service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Ultimately, it’s about representing the interests of the Sweetwater residents, he said. 

“We are having to go to a level of commitment to make sure the citizens of Sweetwater have a voice,” he said at the Sept. 12 meeting. 

Gordon agreed he would not want to see a large-scale state park development at Sweetwater, with RV hookups and hundreds of campsites.

“I don’t believe that’s the intention of either CPW or the forest service,” he said in an earlier interview. “I do think there’s a way of preserving the Sweetwater community, while maintaining a park and having open space.”

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.