Celebration of Improvements to Paonia River Park

Mar 15, 2013

A dedicated troupe showed up to tramp around the Paonia River Park yesterday and mark another step in its transformation from an in-stream gravel operation into a thriving fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands, swimming and boating area, and riverside park.

The project is a holistic reclamation effort with a lot of partners, brought together by the Western Slope Conservation Center. The center’s Sarah Sauter welcomed the small crowd with many thanks. “This is a project that started a really great partnership,” said Sauter, “especially with the Minnesota Canal and Reservoir Company, and the Bureau of Reclamation and with the Delta Conservation District, and with funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. It brought together a number of partners to create a project that’s a win win win scenario.”

Each key participant spoke briefly and added another piece to the win-win-win scenario. Jeff Crane designed the restoration, managing the braided streams into a series of pools in one meandering channel. He knows the area intimately. “The whole thing is about creating habitat,” he said. We’ve got fish-holding structures all through here, different pools, re-vegetated flood plain. The geese are lovin’ it. Elk all over the place down there. All kinds of wildlife.”

Willie Kistler, representing the Minnesota Ditch Company, spoke about how the government had assisted in the project. “In this day and age, it’s pretty fashionable to bash and mistrust the federal government. Well, in this case, they’re the hub of the wheel,” said Kistler. “Without the money that they pledged to us to improve our irrigation water delivery system, we wouldn’t have had funds to offer up to the River Park, to see this all happen.”

Many in the crowd were volunteers who have been working on the project for years. Some were eager users of the park, enjoying its kid-friendly atmosphere and swimming opportunities. And everyone seemed to concur with Chris Stern from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who said, “I just walked the whole project.  It looks great to me. I think the local community is fortunate to have it. That includes most every living creature in this local community – there’s a lot of great habitat down there for lots of different species.”

The conservation center was recently awarded a $10,000 grant from Union Pacific to fund landscaping at the River Park this Fall. When the improvements are completed, the park will be gifted to the Town of Paonia for all to enjoy.

Pictured in the photo above are the Players:

Chris Sturm, Colorado Watershed Conservation Board; Ralph D’Alessandro, Delta Conservation District; Mike Zeman and Craig Ullman, Bureau of Reclamation contractors; Willy Kistler, Minnesota Ditch Company; Sarah Sauter, Western Slope Conservation Center; Jeff Crane, hydrologist; Joanna Calabrese, River Park Coordinator, Western Slope Conservation Center.