Chatfield State Park: Reservoir reallocation could mean big changes

Picture your favorite part of Chatfield State Park. Now keep reading -- because plans to reallocate 20,600 acre-feet of the Chatfield Reservoir to prepare for Colorado's growing population could create noticeable changes in that summer staple. Outlined in an environmental impact statement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the (still tentative) plan calls for raising the reservoir by approximately twelve feet and relocating or rebuilding many of the features that attract an annual 1.5 million people.

At 544 pages, the entire report tome is on view below. Its predictions revolve around the year 2050, when the population of Colorado is expected to reach somewhere between 8.6 and 10.3 million residents. (More alarming are the climate models, which project a five-degree summer heat increase by the same year. And we thought the Westword Music Showcase was hot.) Propelled by fifteen water providers across the Denver metro area, the plan calls for a significant increase in water storage to meet the increased demands of that expanding population -- an estimated jump from 249,597 acre-feet in 2010 to a minimum of 365,601 acre-feet in 2050.

But what does it all mean? Project organizers have scheduled a small handful of public meetings to help area residents digest that information and garner input. Interested parties are invited to Dakota Ridge High School (13300 West Coal Mine Avenue in Littleton) at 5:30 p.m. today and Valley High School (100 Birch Street in Gilcrest) tomorrow at the same time.

In the meantime, the park's neighbors -- and campers, sailors, fishers, nature enthusiasts -- are focused on what it means for their outdoor haven. A handful of features, including the park's swim beach and stables, would be moved or rebuilt to facilitate changes to the reservoir including:

1. On-site and off-site environmental mitigation

2. Modification/re-construction of all impacted recreation facilities

3. Utility relocations

4. Earthwork and shoreline contouring

5. Road, bridge and parking lot construction

6. Demolition, clearing, and grubbing

7. Vegetation management

Because many of the structures are decades-old, this is a good thing, project planners argue. Although the plan would "require significant modification of existing recreational facilities to offset impacts of the reallocation, the replacement of roads and facilities that are currently over thirty years old can be viewed as a positive aspect of the project," the report reads. Here, the silver lining comes into view: The same plan, if acted upon, is estimated to create 2,257 years of employment across fifty years -- and "approximately $318 million in economic output in the region."

But its neighbors want a say: "I just happened to notice a sign posted about the changes when I was down using the gravel ponds to practice paddle boarding," says Todd Mosher, a nearby resident who served as a lifeguard at Chatfield during college. "I wondered, 'Am I the only person who has heard about this?' So I went to the surrounding neighborhoods and asked them about it, and almost down to a person they all said, 'No.' I just want people to know what's going on."

In the weeks since he learned about the potential changes, Mosher has created a Save Chatfield change.org petition and Facebook page and partnered with organizations including the Greater Audobon Society of Denver to promote awareness. While he hasn't closed his mind to area changes, he hopes that organizers will weigh community feedback -- and that he won't be alone at tonight's public meeting.

"They're quietly changing what is Denver's most successful state park without a lot of input," Mosher says. "I'm not saying that the changes are all bad, but my biggest concern is that they do something that makes people want to use Chatfield less. We just have to be active and attentive to make sure that doesn't happen."

Here's the aforementioned report tome:

Chatfield Environmental Impact Statement

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Kelsey Whipple
Contact: Kelsey Whipple