Valley land trust launches ‘Save the Lake’

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily

EAGLE COUNTY — An effort has started to preserve Sweetwater Lake. It could take some time, but those who love the area are optimistic.

While the lake is in Garfield County, the effort is being spearheaded from Eagle County — the only road access is off the Colorado River Road just north of Dotsero.

The nearly 500-acre property includes most of the lake and a lot of 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. That hasn’t gone over well with the neighbors.

Bill Stephens and his family are longtime residents in the area. Stephens said he and his neighbors are “extremely” happy to see the preservation effort.

“We don’t need another golf course or high-density housing,” Stephens said, adding that the lake is a “centerpiece” of the community.

A community’s heart

The resort, Stephens said, has long been “a neat place to congregate.” It’s also been a resource for the community, he added.

There was an automated external defibrillator at the resort for a while, Stephens said. That device put help a matter of minutes away in case someone suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. An ambulance could take the better part of an hour.

The resort was also a good staging area for fire crews in case of a nearby wildfire.

This is the second summer the resort hasn’t been open. That’s been a disappointment to those who would spend an afternoon or weekend there.

The resort was well-known as a good place for a bit of breakfast or lunch, and is renowned for its pie. Those who dined on the deck overlooking the lake often shared the space with countless hummingbirds. Visitors could rent a rowboat, or launch their own from the dock.

Adrienne Brink has run the resort for about 35 years. These days, she’s running the horseback riding and outfitting operation just a short way from the now-closed resort.

Brink said her business income has taken a substantial hit with closing off the property from public use.

Brink would like to see the preservation effort succeed, of course, not just for her own business but for the public.

School kids have been known to take field trips to a cave across the lake from the resort. That cave, on private property, contains a number of cave drawings.

“I’d like it to be open, and have the public back again,” Brink said.

‘Save the Lake’

That could happen again if the Eagle Valley Land Trust’s “Save the Lake” campaign succeeds.

That campaign is being conducted in conjunction with the Colorado chapter of The Conservation Fund. In fact, The Conservation Fund has the purchase contract for the property.

And that’s where the effort gets serious.

The fundraising campaign seeks a total of $9.5 million. The local land trust hopes to raise $3.5 million. Much of the funding from outside Eagle County could conceivably come from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Eagle Valley Land Trust director Jim Daus said there’s a lot of competition for money from that fund — which would come from the U.S. Forest Service in this case. But, he added, a large local contribution to the purchase price can help in that competition.

Private donations will probably make up much if not all of the local match. But there could be some public money involved.

Gypsum Town Council Member Tom Edwards is also a member of the Eagle County Open Space Advisory Council, as well as a board member at the Eagle Valley Land Trust.

Asked to put on his open space committee hat, Edwards said he’d be “willing to listen” to a request for county open space money, although Sweetwater Lake is in an adjacent county.

“My contention is it’s a really neat amenity for Eagle County.”

In his role on the Gypsum Town Council, Edwards said that board for several years held budget meetings at the resort.

“Nobody gets a cell phone call up there,” he said, adding that between the ambiance and the pie, everybody stayed in a pretty good mood through the day-long meetings.

If the fundraising is a success — Daus said he’s optimistic — and the federal funding comes through, the question then becomes what to do with the property.

The Forest Service is probably the most likely recipient of the space. If that happens, the resort could reopen as a concessionaire.

The important, thing, Daus said, is preserving the land, the lake — and its water.

The “Save the Lake” campaign is “possibly the most important project we’ll have worked on” at the land trust, he said. “I’m really excited about it.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at or 970-748-2930.

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