Steamboat Springs The Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area just became a more attractive destination for outdoors enthusiasts.
Crews from Duckels Construction used a trackhoe and a crane Thursday to lift a 120-foot-long steel pedestrian bridge spanning the Yampa River onto its concrete footers. The bridge links a parking lot off Routt County Road 14 south of Steamboat Springs with a 50-acre lake originally created by the Lafarge gravel pit. Previously, one had to either wade the river or arrive by kayak in order to legally access the lake.
Now, a $10 state habitat stamp (up for renewal in the state Legislature) unlocks access to a quick, early morning or after-work experience for nature lovers, waterfowl hunters and anglers.
The bridge could be opened to the public by late May or early June.
"There's quite a few pike in there, and for now, it's what it's going to be," said Colorado Division of Wildlife fisheries biologist Billy Atkinson. "There are a few trout in there but not many. The long-term management plans are up in the air. We're going to watch use patterns until we can get a handle on it."
His allotment of catchable sized trout already is committed for this year, Atkinson said, and establishing fingerling trout in a lake with so many hungry pike is a challenge.
The Chuck is outside the southern city limits and just around the corner from Haymaker Golf Course on C.R. 14. There is additional access to the Yampa River at a second parking lot just to the north of the new bridge, where habitat improvements offer the promise of good trout fishing in the near future. But, the lake offers more access for more people.
The Duckels crew carefully placed either end of the bridge over bolts in the concrete bridge abutments Thursday. Construction superintendent Brady Meier said the next step is to build earthen ramps that will lead up to the bridge itself.
Colorado Division of Wildlife engineer Steve Ryan said the bridge, fabricated by Big R Bridge of Greeley, is designed with a trough so that concrete can be poured to form a durable walking surface. The bridge, without the addition of concrete, weighs about 19 tons. The cost of the steel portion of the bridge was between $80,000 and $86,000. The DOW is funding the project.
The 101-acre parcel surrounding the lake was acquired from Lafarge in late 2004 for a price several hundred thousand dollars less than its appraised value. The purchase was made with funding help from the Yampa River Legacy Project and Great Outdoors Colorado.
Although the land is outside the city limits, it is owned by the city of Steamboat Springs. The DOW has a contract to manage it.
City Open Space and Trails Supervisor Craig Robinson was watching the installation of the bridge Thursday.
Although there is a substantial stretch of river within the wildlife area, it is not comfortable to walk the bank because of thick brush and wetlands.
"I've heard a lot of people expressing concerns about how to get out to that lake," Robinson said. "It will be very natural - not a park-like setting."
Pets are not, for the most part, welcome at the Chuck. Only hunting dogs are allowed. Resident anglers with an annual fishing license already should have a habitat stamp attached to their license. Only boats used for fishing are permitted to be launched from the Chuck.