Sweetwater Lake Ranch now in public hands after Forest Service, Conservation Fund acquisition

A family rows a rowboat on Sweetwater Lake during springtime.
U.S. Forest Service/Conservation Fund courtesy photo

The White River National Forest on Tuesday completed its acquisition of the 488-acre Sweetwater Lake Ranch, located in the Flat Tops on the Garfield-Eagle county line.

The land acquisition was facilitated between the Conservation Fund and the U.S. Forest Service.

According to a news release, the acquisition will serve to protect wildlife habitat and create new recreational access to Sweetwater Lake for the general public, providing opportunities for boating, fishing, swimming and camping.

“Sweetwater Lake has been cherished in this region for decades,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said. “We are thrilled to expand the public access to this area and are very grateful for all the local support we received for this acquisition.”

The Conservation Fund began the process to purchase the land in 2020 in an effort to prevent potential development of the privately held inholdings.

The Forest Service obtained funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund for the project, which had been identified among its top 10 priority purchases nationwide, according to the release.

The ranch will now be part of the White River National Forest, to be protected in perpetuity, the release stated.

“Sweetwater Lake is beloved by the community, and we’re honored to play a role in protecting this Colorado gem for the benefit of the public and the wildlife,” said Justin Spring, Colorado state director at The Conservation Fund.

Spring also announced the creation of the new Sweetwater Lake Stewardship and Equity Fund, “which will assist the Eagle Valley Land Trust and our agency partners in activating the property for public use and enhancing opportunities for underserved communities to enjoy the space for years to come,” he said.

Colorado’s two U.S. senators, Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, also applauded the land deal.

“This move not only protects Sweetwater Lake by making it public land, but also boosts Colorado’s economy and improves recreation access for the millions of people who visit the White River National Forest every year,” Bennet said in the release.

Added Hickenlooper, “Sweetwater Lake is one of the largest and most pristine natural bodies of water in the Centennial State, and we’re ecstatic Coloradans and visitors will continue enjoying it thanks to the Land and Water Conservation Fund.”

The newly acquired land will remain largely open to the public, the release states.

Ranch structures and some of the areas around them remain closed until the Forest Service completes its evaluation and long-term management plan for the area.

“In the coming months, we will be working with the public and partners such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Eagle Valley Land Trust to develop a long-term management plan for Sweetwater Lake,” Fitzwilliams said.

Jessica Foulis, executive director for the Eagle Valley Land Trust, said conservation of the Sweetwater Lake Ranch realizes a long-held community vision.

“The partners, donors and advocates who made this acquisition possible have created a legacy that will benefit all the residents and guests of Eagle and Garfield counties for generations to come,” she said in the release. “(The Land Trust) is looking forward to supporting the Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife in this exciting new chapter of Sweetwater Lake.”

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