When Mother Nature turns up the heat, it's time for some family fun at an area lake. Fortunately for Delta County residents, the three state parks -- Crawford, Sweitzer and Paonia -- provide a boatload of options. From water skiing, fishing, swimming, to picnicking under shady trees, these parks provide welcome relief from the hot summer sun.
Crawford State Park
Crawford State Park, located just one mile from Crawford, is the largest of the three area lakes maintained by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. It has been extensively renovated and includes electric and water hookups at the 45 campsites in Iron Creek Campground. The campground also features hot showers and flush toilets, and a dump station just south of the entrance. Another 21 sites without hookups (including five tent sites and two universally accessible sites) can be found at the Clear Fork Campground. This campground also offers showers and flush toilets.
The park also has nature trails to explore, and plenty of picnic sites for those wanting to spend just a day.
Within the boundaries of Crawford State Park are 337 land acres and the 400-acre reservoir. The spectacular north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is only 12 miles from the park. Nearby are Needle Rock, Castle Rock and Saddle Mountain.
A swim beach with comfort station and an outside shower for washing off the sand can also be found at Crawford State Park.
The lake is known as a quality perch fishery, and anglers are attracted to the warm-water and cold-water fishing opportunities. You can reel in yellow perch, largemouth bass, channel catfish, rainbow and German brown trout, northern pike and crappie.
For those with an eye toward wildlife, the park is home to mule deer, cottontail rabbits, coyotes, raccoons, prairie dogs and ground squirrels, while the waters of the lake attract a wide variety of waterfowl and raptors of all kinds.
Sweitzer State Park
Located just one mile south of Delta on Highway 50, Sweitzer State Park is a hidden gem. This lake-based retreat provides day-use nature, picnic and water recreation. As the Colorado Parks and Wildlife describes it, "Built solely for recreation, Sweitzer Lake fulfills its planned purpose well. Water-ski, swim, picnic, fish, boat, bird watch or just breathe in the clean air. Sit on the grass, at a picnic site, or on the sandy shore and enjoy the day."
Known as the "oasis on the edge of the desert," Sweitzer has 137 surface acres of water and 73 acres of land. Views of the majestic San Juan Mountains, the Uncompahgre Plateau, Grand Mesa and the West Elks can be enjoyed from shady picnic areas. Playground equipment and a sandy beach lie adjacent to a protected swim area.
Picnicking is popular at the park, with 21 tables complete with grills and shade shelters spread throughout the park. A group picnic area set among the tall cottonwoods is available for rent also.
A waterfowl area on the east end of the lake provides a haven for many native birds, migratory waterfowl, pelicans, swans, eagles and more.
Sweitzer Lake is considered a good fishing spot for youngsters with catfish, bluegill, green sunfish and carp. It is a catch and release only lake.
Paonia State Park
Paonia State Park is located in the shadow of the majestic Ragged Mountains, along Colorado Highway 133 about 16 miles northeast of Paonia (five miles from Somerset).
The park, with an elevation of 6,500 feet, is a popular place for camping, picnicking, water skiing, fishing, boating and outdoor photography. Fishing for northern pike and rainbow trout is best from late June to late August.
Paonia State Park has 13 primitive campsites located in two separate campgrounds. Spruce Campground, adjacent to Highway 133, offers eight sites in a scenic setting with towering blue spruce and a babbling stream a few feet away. Hawsapple Campground is located across the stream, and is popular with water skiers. All campsites have a picnic table, a fire ring and nearby vault toilets. There is no drinking water available in the park. The camping fee is $10 per night, and a parks pass is also required.
The lake is long and narrow, calling to mind a Scandinavian fjord. As a result there are no trails in the park, but hikers can enjoy the trail systems in the nearby Ragged Wilderness Area.
Boaters should be aware that the launch ramp is scheduled to close on Aug. 15 for the construction of an extension to the top of the ramp. The project will help stop gravel from forming on the ramp, making it easier for boaters to back down to the water.
Visitors to any of Colorado's state parks will need to purchase a daily pass, which range from $7 to $9 per vehicle. Camping sites require an additional fee and vary from park to park. Another option is the annual parks pass, which costs $70 per vehicle. The pass is valid for a full 12 months of use from the date of purchase.
For details about these and other state parks visit Colorado Parks and Wildlife online at http://cpw.state.co.us.vvv