If you're yearning for a walk along the river, consider Paonia River Park.
A mile-long segment of walking trail was recently completed at the park, located just beyond the North Fork Historical Society Museum on Grand Avenue.
WSCC was awarded a $137,600 from the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Non-Motorized Trails grant program for trail construction. The program encourages projects that support trail connectivity and construction of new trails, said WSCC river park coordinator Alyssa Clarida. "The Paonia River Park was very attractive to them."
WSCC works to protect the air, land, water and wildlife in the Lower Gunnison Watershed and improve access to public lands. With roughly 95 percent of riverfront land in private ownership, the park offers one of the only public access points along the North Fork of the Gunnison River.
"That was a huge grant for us," said WSCC board member Ralph D'Alessandro. WSCC has now invested more than $1 million in grants and private donations on park improvements.
Trail construction includes road base and a surface layer of red granite laid over a thick weed barrier. The river rock that lines the entire trail was put in place by a group of students from Paonia High School.
An eight-member crew from the Western Colorado Conservation Corps provided most of the labor. "It was wonderful working with them," said Clarida. Most of them saw the project through to the end, which was rewarding for workers and helped build relationships between the two organizations.
Grand Junction resident and WCCC member Logan Littlejohn worked throughout the entire project. "It was a fun project to work on," said Littlejohn, who was working recently for the Delta Conservation District on an invasive vegetation removal project in Hotchkiss, which D'Alessandro was helping to oversee. "It was very gratifying to see the outcome," said Littlejohn.
Two weeks of labor was funded by a grant from the Colorado Youth Corps, in partnership with Great Outdoors Colorado. Those two weeks were pivotal to the overall timeline of the project, said Clarida. Without them, construction would likely not be completed until next spring.
The park lies on the site of a former in-stream gravel mine now owned by Delta Sand and Gravel. Its parent company donated 19 acres, increasing the size of the park to 23 acres. The trail opens up those additional 19 acres to the public and establishes a route that allows people to explore the park's riverbanks and riparian area without further disturbing wetlands areas and wildlife habitat, said Clarida. "The wetlands are now returning to a healthy state."
Next year, said Clarida, WSCC will host a river reclamation workshop for community leaders and grassroots organizers. The workshop is intended to open dialog on what can be improved upon in the area. The river park will be used as a case study.
Other projects remain, including replacement of a bridge over the Minnesota Ditch with a handicap accessible bridge, construction of an amphitheater, and placement of a bench above the riverbank. Alpine Fencing is installing a privacy fence between the trail and adjacent private property this week. WSCC also plans several projects over the next couple of years, said Clarida, including improvements to the entrance area of the park.
A $45,000 GOCO grant in partnership with the Youth Corps Association (CYCA) was awarded to the Town of Paonia, which owns a section of the park in partnership with WSCC. The grant will pay for educational and directional signs, which are anticipated to be in place by next spring.
The entire segment of trail is now officially open. While dogs are allowed in the park, WSCC appreciates if they are on a leash, said Clarida, and people should clean up after them. Doggy poop bag dispensers are located in the parking lot.
The park, which includes a handicap access ramp and picnic area, is maintained and patrolled by citizen volunteers, said D'Alessandro. "Hopefully this will last for a number of years and people can enjoy it."