I want to commend the San Miguel Whitewater Association’s Bob Gleason and Cari Mackey on being so diligent in finding a home for a whitewater play park on the San Miguel River. A whitewater park made for kayakers is a project that San Miguel County must seriously consider. This is coming from someone who has never sat in a kayak and usually gets pretty discouraged when a long line of kayakers floats through the water I am fishing.
There are a number of reasons why I believe a whitewater park will be a huge benefit to San Miguel County, but first and foremost is the opportunity for the county to get a hold on in-stream recreational water rights.
As the Front Range continues to expand its suburbs into one megalopolis spanning from Wyoming to New Mexico, more and more water will be needed to make sure those Kentucky bluegrass lawns are green. At some point (this I guarantee) the Front Range is going to look westward for even more water than what tit already pulls through the Continental Divide. When that happens, it might be nice if San Miguel County had some water rights to keep the San Miguel River from being completely dried up – increased water rights we could get, with a whitewater park.
Telluride and the surrounding San Juan area are based on a tourist economy – an economy that is anything but reliable. Telluride is also heralded for being an environmentally minded community. As both Mackey and Gleason have said, building a park on the San Miguel would cut down on our boaters’ driving to other far-reaching kayaking destinations if they get to play on the river at home, creating a smaller carbon footprint. Let’s use what we already have at home.
And while local boaters will have the opportunity to stay at home to boat, a park would bring others to the area. Thoughtful construction of a whitewater park on the San Miguel River will bring paddle heads from around the nation.
As a fly-fishing guide, I have no problem with the whitewater park – in fact, I believe that adding some structure to a stream as swift as the San Miguel River might actually improve the fish habitat in and around the park. If constructed properly, with as many natural materials as possible, a whitewater park will create a series of eddies and holes in which those fish, during high and low water, will live.
Now, I am no river biologist, but having studied the elusive Brown and Rainbow trout in countless hours of fly-fishing, it seems to me that a whitewater park could also be a fun place to fish – if the whitewater crowds aren’t too big.
The Telluride Institute’s Ashley Boling, who gave a PowerPoint presentation at the June 18 county commissioners’ meeting, opposes the creation of a whitewater park. Although Boling presented his opposition in a thoughtful, gentle way, there were many things with which I disagreed.
He stated at the meeting that the San Miguel River is one of the few free stone rivers left in Colorado – meaning that there are no dams on the river. And yes, this is true, but Boling went on to say he didn’t want anything manmade built in the San Miguel River and that it should be kept in its natural state. Natural state? Isn’t there a highway running parallel to a large portion of the river? Gravel pits on its banks? Bridges? Transmission lines? There is a low-head dam in Norwood Canyon, which to me (don’t know about you), seems like a problem – and a dangerous one, at that. Simply adding structure to a small portion of the river for a whitewater park won’t make the San Miguel any less natural than it already isn’t.
Boling also voiced concerns about the migratory patterns of fish that may not be able to swim through the whitewater park. First, fish are a bit more resilient than we think and can swim through features of a whitewater park. Second, if we are so concerned about the health of the fish in the San Miguel, when will it be time to set in place some common fishing regulations, like catch-and-release and artificial flies and lures-only rules? The San Miguel River will never be a highly respected fishing destination until these regulations are put in place. Perhaps that could be a project for the Telluride Institute?
I honestly believe that Boling and the Telluride Institute have great intentions and a passion to keep the San Miguel River as healthy and natural as possible. I certainly will commend them for that. But the possibility of gaining instream water rights is the reason to support a whitewater park project. Twenty years down the road, it is going to be even tougher to keep the San Miguel as it is if the Front Range is sucking out all the water. Without its water, the San Miguel isn’t even a creek.
The San Miguel County Commissioners should do everything in their power to find a home for the whitewater park and build it. As our population continues to grow here in the West, something as small as a whitewater park could have a hugely positive impact on the health of our rivers.