By Kyle Davidson
When it comes to community interest projects, the people of Baca County don't let a little thing like lack of funding get in their way, and their determination earned them the 2016 Colorado Parks and Wildlife "Partners in the Outdoors" Collaborator of the Year award.
"Without a doubt, Baca County has no problem putting on the work gloves and doing whatever it takes to get the job done," said CPW District Wildlife Manager Aaron Bartleson, following the award presentation in Keystone, Colo., Thursday.
The region of the state has experienced a number of wet years, and the Two Buttes Reservoir has been over capacity. In 2013, the state of Colorado dam safety engineers required CPW to open the reservoir gates to release water to bring the level down from its gauge height of more than 33 feet to prevent flooding. While getting the gates open was a feat in and of itself, the rush of water caused extensive damage below the dam, destroying roads, a parking lot and even caused the failure of an irrigation canal.
The people of the county banded together to get the area fixed, but a new problem arose. If the community wanted to keep enjoying the recreational opportunities the higher reservoir water level provided, the dam engineers required that the spillway would have to be widened by 150 feet. This meant CPW would have to acquire the rights to some surrounding private lands and move more than 300,000 cubic yards of earth material; a cost that CPW and the state could not afford.
The citizens of the county rolled up their sleeves and got to work. A local landowner worked with the CPW land acquisition office and deeded a portion of their ranch toward the spillway project. Other ranchers, farmers, businesses, city services and community members donated their time, heavy equipment - such as frontloaders, backhoes and skid loaders - fuel and labor with no expectation of reimbursement to ensure the spillway's progress.
"Colorado Parks and Wildlife could not do the work we do without the amazing partners we have," said Lauren Truitt, conference organizer and awards selection committee liaison.
This year, 25 nominations were received from CPW field staff, biologists, and park managers throughout the state ranging from efforts from friends-of-the-parks groups, youth outreach organizations, hunting and water conservation advocates, adventure sports associations, communities, businesses and government agencies.
"Due to the immense amount of partnership nominations we receive from throughout the state there's really no easy way to select just one. Leadership takes the selection process very seriously to ensure that their selections represents the partners who truly embody the collaborative spirit that makes resource management in this state so effective," said Truitt.
While all of the submissions were noteworthy, the efforts of Baca County to restore the Two Buttes State Wildlife Area and expand the spillway were exemplary.
"Anyone that lives in the heart of dust bowl country has a special grit. Their efforts have greatly revitalized the Two Buttes Reservoir. This couldn't have been done without them and it has led to endless recreational opportunities for local area," added Bartleson.