Downvalley boards are sweet on Sweetwater Lake Resort
Eagle Valley Land Trust’s ‘Save The Lake’ movement gets letters of support from Eagle, Gypsum
WESTERN EAGLE COUNTY — A local conservation group rounding up support to save Sweetwater Lake Resort found some this week with the Eagle Town Board and the Gypsum Town Council.
Eagle Valley Land Trust asked the towns to support its efforts to preserve Sweetwater. Representatives in both communities were happy to provide it by pledging letters of support.
When Bergen Tjossem of the Eagle Valley Land Trust asked the audience, numbering around 50 and assembled for the Gypsum Town Council meeting Tuesday night, how many people had visited the Sweetwater Lake area, virtually everyone in the room raised a hand.
“Sweetwater is a pretty amazing place,” said Tjossem. “A lot of people probably went up there as kids and a lot of people probably have had kids who have gone up to Sweetwater Lake, but not in the past two years because it has been closed to the public.”
Development pressure exists
If you think no one would develop land in the remote Sweetwater area, think again. One proposal envisioned a golf course, 280 homes and a hotel. It did not come to fruition, but the current owners have eliminated public access, noted the EVLT representatives.
The whole parcel is 488 acres in eastern Garfield County and is accessible all year round. The road, which originates in Eagle County is plowed, noted EVLT executive director Jim Daus to the Eagle Town Board. He noted that Sweetwater is one of Colorado’s largest natural lakes.
The Sweetwater preservation effort is a $9 million deal and some of that money is in hand, said Daus. The EVLT and a national nonprofit organization called The Conservation Fund are leading an effort to raise $3.5 million toward the purchase of the property with the ultimate goal of integrating the parcel into the surrounding White River National Forest.
The Conservation Fund has secured a contract to secure the property, competing with several private developers.
“We basically have one year to come up with the funding to protect this property,” Tjossem said in Gypsum. “It’s a pretty big piece of land and it’s an entryway to the public lands around there.”
Kathy Heicher with the Eagle County Historical Society explained that Eagle is connected to Sweetwater, then regaled the Eagle Town Board with some quick history about the Ute Trail, mountain men, Chicago gangster Louis “Diamond Jack” Alteri who fled to Sweetwater, and Henry Hernage, namesake of Hernage Gulch, who signed his name on the roof of one of the caves in 1884.
A cave is home to some Ute Indian pictographs, one of the few places in the state that have them, Heicher said.
Janet Rivera lives up near Sweetwater. People drive up there, meet the locked gate at the end of the road and turn around — disappointed, she said.
“We’re asking you to help preserve it for us to use. It’s not just to look at,” Rivera said.
Liz Mooney, Sweetwater Community president, told Eagle’s town board that the people who leave Sweetwater for work each day commute to Eagle County. They do not go to Glenwood Springs, Mooney said.
Tjossem agreed that Sweetwater is an important regional amenity. He said people who travel to the area stop in Eagle and Gypsum for fuel, supplies and lodging. To that end, the EVLT has reached out to various governments and organizations for letters of support for the purchase including Garfield County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, A.J. Brink Outfitters and Walking Mountains Science Center.
The EVLT says the Sweetwater Lake preservation plan will:
- Create a new public recreational access to the lake area for fishing, horseback riding, boating and camping.
- Open access to surrounding public lands including the Flat Tops Wilderness Area, White River National Forest and the Ute Trail.
- Conserve critical habitat for elk, deer, osprey, eagles and other wildlife
- Protect the Upper Colorado Watershed
- Open new public access to the historic Ute Cave while protecting cultural resources.
“We need to show the community is fully behind the purchase,” said Tjossem. “It is important for the whole area.”
Supporters of the preservation plan are scheduled to meet Monday, Oct. 28, 5:30 p.m. at the lake to brainstorm and plan next steps.
Vail Daily reporter Pam Boyd contributed to this story.