PI Editorial: Legal battle not the way to steer primitive park at Sweetwater Lake
Garfield County’s commissioners are whistling-kettle steamed about state and federal management plans for Sweetwater Lake — that much is 110% clear after their discussion on the matter June 7.
But what’s less clear is how they plan to do more than just push back on plans spearheaded by the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to turn the natural gem into a state park — and make sure the original goal of preserving Sweetwater Lake for the benefit of the public is accomplished.
We will admit, a nightmare scenario for Sweetwater Lake is easy to imagine: a lake filled to the brim with duckies and SUPs, an endless line of cars going in and out the one-exit/entrance area, a hunting heritage replaced with lines of people posing for selfies to show off to folks back home, thereby driving an endless cycle of people to the area.
After all, there are plenty of examples of publicly managed areas being loved to death in Colorado — particularly on the Front Range.
Here on the Western Slope, however, we also have success stories — some still in progress, for sure, but still others show how the sometimes conflicting interests of conservation and public access can be balanced.
Hanging Lake is likely the best example locally — it’s a wonderful example of multiple organizations partnering together to make sure a natural gem is able to be enjoyed not just now but for future generations.
Given the success of the USFS, city of Glenwood Springs and others in making that happen, we still believe that everyone can come up with a Sweetwater Lake plan that accomplishes the goal of preservation while still maintaining public access.
Accomplishing that requires politicians and land managers to stay focused, and we’re not sure that lawyering up is helpful in that regard. But that’s what the county commissioners will consider at their meeting Monday with a $30,000 allocation on the agenda for outside legal counsel. It’s also a bit of a head-scratcher that the commissioners would decry the loss of $11,000 from the county tax coffers with lands becoming publicly held near Sweetwater Lake while looking to spend nearly three times as much on what seems to be an unnecessary legal battle.
Maybe lawyers become necessary later on, but we’d rather see our commissioners continue to work with USFS and CPW to find an agreeable solution. Sweetwater Lake could even end up being a new model for future state parks — parks which are more Spartan in design, with lower numbers of sites and reservation-only visitation.
If that is accomplished, and if the commissioners help get everyone to that goal, they’d be securing a legacy within Sweetwater Lake that benefits not just Garfield County but the entire state.
The Post Independent editorial board members are Editor Peter Baumann, Managing Editor/Senior Reporter John Stroud, and community representatives Mark Fishbein and Danielle Becker.
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