Glenwood Middle School 6th graders doing their part to preserve Sweetwater Lake

A screenshot from an Eagle Valley Land Trust video highlighting the Save the Lake campaign to raise money for the proposed public purchase of Sweetwater Lake in remote eastern Garfield County.
Eagle Valley Land Trust

There’s a special place in Glenwood Springs Middle School teacher Autumn Rivera’s heart for Sweetwater Lake, situated on the eastern fringe of the Flat Tops north of Dotsero.

So, when one of her sixth-grade students suggested the recently launched “Save the Lake” campaign for a class project, she was touched.

“Unbeknownst to them, I basically grew up at Sweetwater Lake,” Rivera said of the privately owned lake resort in remote Garfield County.

“That’s where my childhood was; it’s like my backyard. So, it was very special to me to see the students take on something that was so important to me, without knowing it was important to me.”

For their semester-long expeditionary study, the GSMS sixth grade class has been learning about Colorado River ecology. As part of the project, students were challenged to raise money for charities that support watershed health.

They made drawings of the many macro-invertebrate species that inhabit the expansive Colorado River watershed and sold them.

Asked where the school should donate the money, one of Rivera’s students, Allie Allred, suggested the Eagle Valley Land Trust’s (EVLT) campaign to raise funds to bolster a federal Conservation Fund proposal to buy the lake and surrounding property — which has been for sale by the current private owner — and bring it under the U.S. Forest Service holdings.

“My mom took me for a hike up there, and we have fished it before,” said Allred, whose mother works for the Forest Service. “She was telling me about all these cool things up there, and the wildlife.

“It’s a great way to keep all the ecosystems safe there,” Allred said of the Save the Lake effort.

The project took off from there. Students have organized additional fundraisers, including a holiday ornament and bake sale at last week’s Celebration of Learning presentation at the school.

They ended up raising $550, which is being donated to the campaign and matched by an anonymous donor, bringing the total contribution to $1,100. 

Addison Godes, Mia Alvey, Elisa Arana, and Colette Alvarez Jimenez work the “Save the Lake” bake sale during the Glenwood Springs Middle School Celebration of Learning last week.

It’s just a very small part in the effort to raise $3.5 million to complete the purchase by next summer, but worthwhile, adds Amelia Geiger, one of the other students involved with the project. 

“The lake is crucial habitat for all of the creatures that live around the lake, and it also has historical value,” Geiger noted.

Contained on the property are the Ute Indian caves, where petroglyphs can be found. The Ute Trail runs through the property, also. 

“It would just be better if we saved it and left it open to the public so everyone can enjoy it,” Geiger said.

Added student Mia Alvey, “I think it’s really important, because we need to save what’s here now instead of waiting until almost nothing is left.”

Glenwood Middle School sixth grader Payson Vyhlidal presents the #LifeBlood donation to Jim Daus from Eagle Valley Land Trust.

The Sweetwater Lake property is bordered on three sides by forest land already, Alvey noted. She said it would be best off left undeveloped beyond the current lodge, cabins and horseback outfitter that operates on the site.

Would-be buyers in recent years have floated proposals to develop a golf course on the site and even a water-bottling facility.

As part of their studies, students also wrote persuasive letters for the EVLT to use in encouraging people to contribute to and support the effort.

The nearly 500-acre property includes most of the lake and surrounding property. The property has gone through a number of owners over the decades, and the current owners have had it on the market for a couple of years.

Marketing for the sale has touted the property’s development potential, but that hasn’t gone over well with neighbors and supporters of the effort to place the property in the public trust.

The anonymous donor has agreed to match up to $10,000 through Dec. 31, and several Eagle County local governments have pledged financial support for the campaign. Garfield County commissioners have lent their verbal support to the effort, but so far have not contributed money.

The Glenwood Middle School students plan to approach the local commissioners after the first of the year to try to persuade them to do so.

“The Save the Lake campaign fit right in with everything we’ve been studying, and allowed the students to apply their learning in a real-life situation,” Rivera said.

If acquired, the property would provide new public access to the lake itself and surrounding public lands, Bergen Tjossem, spokesman for the EVLT, said.

“We’re trying to raise $3.5 million for the campaign, and hopefully that can be paired with funding from Land and Conservation Fund,” he said.

The campaign began in early September, but the money will need to be raised by sometime next year for the purchase to proceed.

Watch the video

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