State Parks and Divison of Wildlife prepare for talks |

State Parks and Divison of Wildlife prepare for talks

Park managers poised to discuss merger of agencies

— The three managers of five Colorado State Parks in Routt and Moffat counties were planning a meeting with their counterparts at the Colorado Division of Wildlife when they sat down Tuesday with the Routt County Board of Commissioners.

"We'll meet in two days and be asked to form work groups and transition teams at every level" and talk about things they have in common and things they do differently, said Ron DellaCroce, manager of Yampa River and Elkhead state parks.

He was referring to a plan driven by Gov. John Hickenlooper to merge the two state agencies to search for efficiencies and resulting cost savings to take some of the pressure off the stressed state budget.

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger told DellaCroce, Steamboat Lake State Park Manager Julie Arington (who also manages Pearl Lake State Park) and Stagecoach State Park Manager Craig Preston that he thinks it's reasonable for the state to explore the potential for cost savings.

"It's a pilot program. I think it's a great opportunity for discussion," Monger said. "It could have no cost savings. If it doesn't make sense, take it off the table."

The park managers told the commissioners that a 2008-09 economic study contracted by Colorado State Parks for all of the parks statewide showed that visitors to the five parks spend almost $62 million annually within a 50-mile radius of the parks. The three Routt County parks saw 668,000 visitors in fiscal 2009-10, with Steamboat Lake leading the way with 348,683 visitors.

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Steamboat Lake and Stagecoach state parks took a hit at least in terms of visitors' perceptions the past two years as crews at Steamboat Lake removed most of the tall evergreen trees in the campground after pine beetles killed them.

"We've had pretty severe impacts to our revenue and visitation," Arington said. "But we've removed all the trees, so it's safe, and it looks fine. We're already booked solid for the Fourth of July holiday."

Crews have planted about 2,300 lodgepole pine and spruce seedlings in the park to replace the mature trees, and 50 5-foot-tall spruce are being planted in key locations.

The ice and slush on Steamboat Lake measured 40 inches three weeks ago, Arington said, and the lake likely won't be open for boating until at least mid-May.

Stagecoach saw the lake level drop last summer and through fall during a construction project that added several feet to the concrete dam, a step that ultimately will raise the lake level.

"The dam construction is 95 percent done," Preston said. He's optimistic the reservoir will refill to its new level by Memorial Day.

DellaCroce said his staff is being increasingly vigilant about screening boats at Elkhead for invasive species such as zebra mussels and rusty crayfish. Boats are inspected at the gated boat ramp before owners launch. Those who take the extra trouble to clean the hulls of their boats after every outing will enjoy a smoother launch process, he said.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

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