The project’s origins stretch back to about five years ago with the Trinidad Community Foundation (TCF) and has grown since to include a multitude of active and supporting partners such as Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, the Spanish Peaks-Purgatoire River Conservation District, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the City of Trinidad, the Tamarisk Coalition, private landowners and host of other agencies and groups. “We were talking about how the Purgatoire River, from the dam all the way through the town, was a very under-utilized resource. When the (TCF) got together, one of the tenants of their reason for being was recreation within the area,” TCF and Purgatoire Anglers chapter of Trout Unlimited member Howard Lackey said. “I took the project with the river as kind of our banner project for recreation.”
The focus on the Purgatoire River commenced with the regular cleanups that are still ongoing through the efforts of a small army of volunteers, including local Comcast employees. “This year, I think we had 232 volunteers,” Lackey said. “Part of what the neglect of the river corridor was, was that a lot of invasive species were allowed to take hold. Russian olive is a very prolific and water-thirsty plant, so it has a tendency to concentrate along wet areas and streams banks. It chokes out the native flora, which was willow, cottonwoods, all that kind of stuff that was here 200 years ago before the Russian olive.”[...]
“It’s not so much that the Purgatoire has been abused, it’s just been ignored,” Lackey said. “We’ve had a lot of people that have kicked in, and then The Nature Conservancy started with it, and the Purgatoire River Conservancy District…got interested in the process to clean up the river, and it helps the delivery of water to their irrigators.”[...]
The second phase of the current project would begin with the repair of the river area from damage caused by illegal ATV traffic, trash and illegal dumping. Examples of the latter two problems are easily seen by even a casual stroll through much of Trinidad‘s river area. “We’d like to bring it back to a natural state that would allow for nature trails on the north side that would include not only the hiking, but also possibly areas where we could define and meet the natural flora and natural wildlife,” Lackey said. “The part of the trail system, called the Boulevard Edition, which is west of I-25…that’s a part of the river that’s been extremely abused; just out of control four-wheel usage that’s torn up the landscape. At our cleanup this year we took two-and-a-half 40 yard rolloff (dumpsters) of crap out of there.”
Plans then call for developing the river to include a fishery, making the stretch around and through Trinidad conducive to recreational fishing. “That’s where the Trout Unlimited comes in,” Lackey said. “The Trout Unlimited group have engaged a stream engineer that is taking a look at the flows of the Purgatoire between low and high to decide how we can design the stream to make it conducive to a trout fishery.”
Lackey described the goal of a successful design as creating “a streambed within a streambed. We have to design for two different flows: one which is a very low flow—anywhere from three (cubic feet per second – cfs) to 10 cfs — then a very high flow up to 400 cfs to 500 cfs,” Lackey said. “We kind of are envisioning a channel following the natural flow of the water, and enhancing it with rock structures, bank structures, things that will have a conducive environment for trout during low water segments, and then once the water (level) comes up, it will go outside those banks and increase more areas for the fish to inhabit.”
During the summer months, plans call for cooperation with the Colorado Department of Wildlife to utilize parts of the river for a stocking program. “That will give access to kids and older adults to deal with the fish within the city limits,” Lackey said. “The state usually stocks rainbow (trout), but we’d like to have a reproducing population of brown trout, eventually. Of course, that will take some time.”
Trout Unlimited hopes to develop fisheries in the river from east Trinidad up to the base of the Culebra Range, through the Purgatoire River’s south, middle and north forks and “anything in between. It’s a large area that’s basically been undeveloped for years and years. The south fork is turning into a pretty decent fishery through the efforts of the Department of Wildlife in the designation Bosque del Oso Wildlife Area,” Lackey said.