Plan to shutter buildings surrounding Colorado’s Sweetwater Lake has locals wondering if it was better off in private hands

Sweetwater Lake is becoming a state park under a deal reached with the U.S. Forest Service. But the Sweetwater Lake Resort may become collateral in the process.

Jason Blevins
The Colorado Sun
Sweetwater Lake, located in remote northeastern Garfield County just outside the Flat Tops, is becoming Colorado’s first state park on federal land after it was acquired by the U.S. Forest Service in August 2021.
Tom Lotshaw/Office of the Governor

SWEETWATER — “Don’t look up, OK?”

Adrienne Brink is showing off the kitchen of the lodge at Sweetwater Lake Resort. For nearly 40 years she has used the lakeside log cabin with cinder block additions as a headquarters for AJ Brink outfitters, guiding thousands of hunters and horseback riders into the Flat Tops Wilderness.

She’s never owned the building, or the cabins around the lake. She’s worked with eight different owners since the 1980s. Most of them had big dreams — golf courses, luxury homes and even a water-bottling plant — but none invested much in upkeep. So the ceiling leaks. In a few spots. The buckets are lined up to catch rainwater trickling through the roof.

When the newest landlord visited, it was raining hard and water was pouring through the ceiling into the kitchen. The cabins where Brink’s guides were living were in worse shape, with mold and other problems more serious than leaking roofs.

“I can’t have people in these buildings. The lodge is not fit for human occupation. Period,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, the superintendent of the White River National Forest, which took over ownership of the 488-acre Sweetwater Lake property last fall and forged a first-of-its-kind federal-state partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to manage the property as Colorado’s 43rd state park.

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When Gov. Jared Polis last year stood atop a bluff overlooking the remote lake in Garfield County and triumphantly announced the deal with the Forest Service, the message was clear: Sweetwater Lake had been saved. Private developers had been eyeing Sweetwater Lake for decades. A rare confluence of funding — sparked by The Conservation Fund, Great Outdoors Colorado and the Eagle Valley Land Trust’s Save the Lake campaign — had shifted the property into federal hands.

Read more via the Colorado Sun.

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