From The Mountain Mail (Taylor Edrington/Andy Neinas):
Gold medals aren’t won by accident. They’re earned with hard and often thankless work. The same is true for the Arkansas River’s Gold Medal trout waters. The 102-mile stretch from Leadville to Parkdale is easily Colorado’s longest Gold Medal water and likely one of North America’s top five in terms of contiguous miles. On average, it supports some of the state’s biggest trout and largest stock, at over 170 pounds per acre. It’s no wonder tens of thousands of anglers fish these waters every year.
The Arkansas is also the most rafted river in the U.S. with more than 210,000 visitors enjoying the best family and adventure-class rafting in Colorado just last year. The commercial outfitters of the Arkansas River Outfitters Association, along with other summer activities, are the economic engine of the river communities that reside along its banks.
From pristine Browns Canyon to the well-traveled Bighorn Sheep Canyon, the diverse environments of the Arkansas have thrived while supporting a variety of recreational, agricultural and municipal uses.
The health of the riparian environment is a testament to decades of cooperative and deliberate stewardship efforts. It all starts with responsible management, particularly the Voluntary Flow Management Program. This collaboration of outfitters, agencies and water providers has been essential in preserving and enhancing recreation and the fishery.
The Arkansas River Outfitters Association and Colorado Parks and Wildlife deserve a great deal of credit, as do folks like Jim Broderick at the Southeast Water Conservancy District, Roy Vaughn at the Bureau of Land Management and Alan Ward at the Pueblo Board of Water Works, to name a few. It would not have been possible without their support for vibrant and diverse resources.
The efforts of Christo and Jeanne-Claude have also helped preserve and enhance the area. “Over the River” has been thoroughly evaluated to ensure it is installed and exhibited responsibly. The Fish and Wildlife Service was actively involved in this process and established many precautionary measures, as well as strict water quality and aquatic species requirements to protect these Gold Medal waters. Years before ground is broken, Christo has already paid to remove hundreds of graffiti-tagged railcars from the tracks in Bighorn Sheep Canyon and has funded a recently completed new wildlife corridor identified by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as a bighorn sheep habitat enhancement. In addition, “Over the River” will bring significant international attention from those who may not normally appreciate all the Arkansas River has to offer.
Just upstream, Browns Canyon highlights a completely different part of the river. The proposed National Monument and Wilderness Act speaks to the health of the river and exemplifies the unique environments that exist along the Upper Arkansas.
At the end of the day, the Gold Medal is an important designation that reflects the health of the entire ecosystem. A healthy river doesn’t exist by itself; it takes a chorus of stewards dedicated to preserving this amazing and important river.
The Arkansas will continue to support many varied uses, just as it has for many years.
More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.