July 4, 2016, marks the 25th anniversary of the grand opening of Confluence Park. Since that time, a great deal has changed.
In early 1990, there wasn't much more on Gunnison River Drive than a Gibson's store and the Horse Country arena next to it. No Bill Heddles Recreation Center, no Fort Uncompahgre, and certainly no Confluence Park. In fact, if one bothered to drive to the end of the road, all they would see was the city's old sewer lagoon and Holly Sugar's industrial waste pits, full of debris and overgrowth.
But plans to reclaim the wasteland had begun five years earlier, when city manager Steve Schrock took Rich Englehart, director of Delta Parks and Recreation, on a tour of the city's parks. Their last stop was the sewer lagoons. Schrock said, "Use your imagination and see if you can envision a recreational site running from the industrial building site to the edge of Gibson's property to the confluence of the Uncompahgre and Gunnison rivers."
That comment started a five-year planning process involving city council, city staff, community organizations and many volunteers. The vision was to create a 265-acre recreation "mecca" that included an amphitheater to house the Thunder Mountain Lives Tonight! pageant, the Fort Uncompahgre Living History Museum, a 70-acre trout late, boat ramps, a 30-acre wildfowl site, picnic areas and a horse facility. Plans also included concessions for mountain bike
rentals, paddle boats, rafts, fish bait, food and beverages.
The reclamation work began in earnest in 1990 after grants were received from the state, Colorado Department of Wildlife and the Colorado Greenway Project. A chocolate gala fundraiser was held at the newly opened Delta Fireside Inn. The Horse Country committee received a grant for a horse facility to be built on the south side of the park, and the Colorado Bow Hunters Association donated $250 toward an outdoor archery range to be built on 11 acres northwest across the Uncompahgre River.
On a blustery April 28, a ribbon-cutting ceremony opened the 2.5-mile trail system, though the section circling the lake wasn't open while construction was still underway.
The opening of the Fort Uncompahgre living history museum followed two months later, with over 1,000 visitors over the three-day event.
The work of lowering the lakebed -- in some spots to 35 feet deep to form cool pockets for fish when temperatures warmed -- was completed in April 1991. Through the efforts of Trout Unlimited, Blue Mesa Forest Products, the Division of Wildlife and the city, working with members of Gunnison Gorge Anglers, logs and old Christmas trees were placed on the lakebed to provide fish habitat. With that last step in place, the waters of the Uncompahgre River began filling Confluence Lake.
Earlier that week, work on the wildfowl area, which had not been slated begin for some time, got a jumpstart from a $100,000 grant from the Soil Conservation Service.
Truly a community effort, Confluence Park was enhanced by around 200 volunteers who planted 81 hybrid poplars at the entrance. Funds for the trees came from Columbia Savings, the Colorado State Forest Service and the Colorado Parks and Recreation Association.
The grand opening of the park began in the early morning of July 4, 1991, with a fishing derby, and concluded that night with the Delta Volunteer Fire Department's fireworks display.