Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area: GOCO dough greased the skids


From The Mountain Mail (Arlene Shovald):

While many of those involved in forming the partnership between Colorado State Parks and the Bureau of Land Management to create Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area 25 years ago are now retired or left the area, The Mountain Mail caught up with some of them for comment.

Jerry Mallett, Salida, was director of Western Riverguides Association in about 1986 when the idea was little more than imagination. Bill Dvorak was vice president.

“We were doing a series of congressional VIP trips at that time and educating officials on rivers,” Mallett said. “The Arkansas River was managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and the BLM was not a recreation agency and not prepared to manage rivers, so we met with then state BLM Director Canon Richards about working with the BLM to develop a management plan for the Arkansas River.”

The group included Mallett, Dvorak, Reed Dils and Rick Medrick. All had permits to raft on the river. That first meeting didn’t go so well.

“Richards said the water belonged to the state, and he would never give us an equity in a public resource,” Mallett said. “I told him we would give it to State Parks, but he wasn’t interested in that either.”

Next Mallett called Ron Holliday, then Colorado State Parks director, and met with him, Ralph Shell and Tim King about moving the Arkansas River over to State Parks management.

“They were excited because this was one of the No. 1 resources in rivers and was nationally recognized,” Mallett said.

“There was a 1½-year process with State Parks holding meetings on the drainage from Leadville to Cañon City to seek public input,” Mallett said. “In the end, the BLM came in for joint management, and that is where we’re at today.”

He credited then Sen. Tim Wirth for his help. Wirth and Dvorak worked to get $1.2 million from Congress to clean up California Gulch near Leadville.

When Wirth was meeting outfitters who talked about not enough money for river management, he went to Congress, and fees that outfitters paid to the federal government were redirected to the state.

Dvorak also got funds from Coors to build a boat chute over the lowhead dam by the fish hatchery. At that time boaters either had to go over the dam or walk around it, and at least one fatal accident had occurred.

Ken Salazar was state director of natural resources, and he got a volunteer flow program going, which, if enough water is available, augments the river flow to maintain the flow at 700 cubic feet per second from July until Aug. 15.

John Brejcha, now in Denver, was mayor of Salida when AHRA opened 25 years ago.

“At that time having State Parks and BLM working together was a very innovative solution, but it has solved a lot of ongoing problems and conflicts with users of the river,” Brejcha said. “It brought better management and helped resolve some of the conflicts.”

Brejcha cited Holliday, as director of State Parks, as one who worked tirelessly on the project.

“Another big plus about AHRA was having the headquarters in downtown Salida, on the river,” Breicha said.

Dave Taliaferro, Salida, now retired, was the BLM river manager in 1994.

“I was the planner at the BLM office, and we dreamed of making this happen,” he said. “We (worked with) Steve Reese and pulled all four agencies, Bureau of Land Management, Division of Wildlife, Colorado State Parks and U.S. Forest Service, together.

“I was kind of the peacemaker and I loved it. I had been a planner for 30 years with BLM, and this was a challenge and perfect for me.”

At that time there were 67 boating permits on the river.

“Everyone got on board, and we had 80 members with everyone focused on meeting each other’s needs,” Taliaferro said. “We brought people together and built a partnership. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, to work with commissioners from Lake, Chaffee, Fremont and Custer counties.

“Another thing we came up with was GARNA (Greater Arkansas River Nature Association). Kathryn Wadsworth, one of the river rangers, headed that. I’ve never been so challenged in my life as I was those first 4 or 5 years.”

AHRA starts at the headwaters in Leadville and ends where the Pueblo Reservoir starts and focuses on everything in that watershed.

Steve Reese, now in Alaska, was the first Colorado State Parks manager for AHRA.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” he said. “It was pretty amazing. I’m proud to have been a part of making it happen. So many were determined to make it happen, it was chaotic and crazy at times, but everyone wanted it.”

Holliday, now retired and living in Eastland, Texas, said, “I was a huge advocate of AHRA. It made a lot of sense. BLM had several properties in strategic locations along the river and no recreation budget or mandate out of Congress. They were pretty hamstrung.

“Colorado State Parks wasn’t rolling in money, but the lottery was pretty new and providing a steady amount of money. River use was just burgeoning then, and so we answered a plea from the outfitters, more than anyone else, when they knew they needed to be regulated. Private boaters came along as well, and it’s been a raging success.”

He said he would love to have been in Salida for the 25th anniversary and sends everyone his best.

“I love the Arkansas and Colorado,” Holliday said.

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.