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Roaring Fork Horse Council wants Sweetwater trails limited to foot, horses

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and several agency officials head up the hill overlooking Sweetwater Lake for the October 2021 press conference when the state parks plan was announced.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

A horseback riding advocacy group based in the Roaring Fork Valley wants to see access to trails in the Sweetwater Lake area limited to horseback and hiking only.

“The inclusion of horse facilities in future planning is of utmost importance and makes total sense, as the surrounding (U.S. Forest Service) Flattops Wilderness is accessible only by foot or horseback,” Roaring Fork Valley Horse Council Secretary and Trails Chairperson Susan Cuseo wrote in comments to U.S. Forest Service, State Parks and Eagle Valley Land Trust officials. Early planning is underway for potentially creating a new state park on lands surrounding the recently acquired Sweetwater Lake area.

Sweetwater Lake is situated just outside the Flat Tops Wilderness Area in northeastern Garfield County, but is accessed via the Colorado River Road in Eagle County from Interstate 70 east of Glenwood Canyon.



“We hope that the existing historical trails are respected as sufficient, and no new trail plans are instituted,” she continued in the letter, which was presented at a pair of open house meetings hosted in Gypsum and Glenwood Springs in late January and early February.

Cuseo noted that four main trails depart from the lake heading into the White River National Forest backcountry, including to the north into the designated wilderness area.




“Since trails departing Sweetwater Lake lead immediately into the wilderness, no mountain bike travel should be encouraged or allowed,” she also wrote in her comments.

The U.S. Forest Service acquired the natural lake and surrounding land last year after it was purchased from the former private owners by the Eagle Valley Land Trust through its “Save the Lake” campaign and with funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Last October, Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced that the state plans to partner with the Forest Service and the Land Trust to create a state park there.

White River Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said during a management planning open house in Glenwood Springs on Feb. 9 that, because the trails in the area serve as a portal to the wilderness area, motorized or mechanized (mountain bikes) access would likely not be allowed.

“We don’t want to change the character of the area too much, because it is a wilderness portal,” he said. “We want whatever we do in the way of managing use of the area to fit that historical character.”

At the same time, the Forest Service needs to find a way to manage access, because now that it’s in public hands it will be discovered.

What type of park and what level of development and amenities are to be involved is what’s to be decided through the required environmental reviews that are forthcoming.

“What we’re worried about is that if we’re left to our current situation it’s going to get overrun overnight,” Fitzwilliams said. “If we don’t have someone like the state to help with that, the other option is to put out a prospectus for someone to come in and run it. The only way something like that can pay for itself is if it’s highly developed.”

The Horse Council and other user groups have been consistent in encouraging CPW and the Forest Service to keep park development to a minimum.

“No increased use of motorized vehicles should be allowed as the backcountry road leading to Sweetwater Lake is not suitable for large recreational vehicles, nor is the existing campground,” Cuseo said in her letter. “We highly recommend not improving the road into Sweetwater, just continuing maintenance, and not expanding the campground to include large-scale RV camping.”

Horse facilities maintained by the existing outfitter who operates at the site, AJ Brink Outfitters, should also be preserved, she said.

Cuseo referred to two other Colorado state parks that offer horse facilities, Vega State Park near Collbran and Mancos State Park near Mesa Verde National Park outside Cortez.

“We hope Sweetwater could be added to this list in the future,” she wrote.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.


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