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Shady Island River Park taking shape in Gunnison County

Boat ramp, playgrounds, tent camping—oh my!

By Cayla Vidmar

In November, 2017, Gunnison County purchased a 10.5-acre parcel of land just north of Garlic Mike’s in Gunnison on the east side of Highway 135 and along the Gunnison River. The goal was to have a boat launch to ease congestion at the unofficial boat ramp across from Garlic Mike’s on the west side of the highway.

Almost a year later, after a thorough public process, the Shady Island River Park is taking shape on the page, to the excitement of commissioners and the members of the public that attended a presentation at the October 2 meeting.

“The county obviously recognized the need to address some of the safety and functioning issues at the existing north bridge put-in and purchased this 10-acre parcel of property with the big picture item being moving the boat ramp from the north bridge location,” said Margaret Loperfido, landscape architect with Sprout Studio, who is designing the project. Loperfido explained the public planning process, which helped shape the project from just a boat put-in to what was presented at the county commissioners’ meeting Tuesday.

“We went to the Gunnison River Festival and had a booth at the block party later that day and we began to receive input, talked to folks, and we had comment cards and various ways for folks to express their desires for the amenity,” Loperfido said. She explained the group held stakeholder meetings, including discussions with boating outfitters and fishing outfitters, along with Immigrantes Unidos to reach the Hispanic population, and youth groups.

That public process resulted in a master plan that includes multiple nature-based playgrounds, 18 tent camping spots plus one group camping spot, two pavilions and a total of 79 parking spots, including both trailer and vehicle parking. A large beach will serve as a boat queue and waiting area, and another beach will serve as small craft (kayak, standup paddle board) put-in and a beach hangout area. The plan also features in-stream habitat improvements, with boulders and areas for wade-in fishing.

Questions from the audience centered on biking and pedestrian access, and using the property for overflow parking next summer.

Mark Parsons asked if the biking and pedestrian access was part of the plan. Loperfido explained that they planned an area for a potential overpass or underpass connection to the existing pedestrian and bike path across the highway, but it has not been included in final budget. The group stressed that non-motorized access to the area was definitely a priority.

Dustin Brown asked that if the area would not be built out by next summer, the property could be used for overflow parking for the current boat put-in. Cathie Pagano, director of Gunnison County community and economic development, said a potential issue is with CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) infrastructure for turn lanes off the highway onto the property. Commissioner Phil Chamberland raised concerns about liability, given it would require that people park vehicles across the highway from the current boat launch.

Messner also noted that “best-case scenario, we’re starting this project next summer,” implying parking access in the project area would be off the table anyway.

The conversation led to the issue of funding the project, which, as it stands, is estimated at just over $3 million. The county purchased the parcel last year for $1 million, with hopes that the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) would repay that amount. According to a previous article in the Crested Butte News, decades ago, the BOR and county struck an agreement in which the BOR would compensate the local community for miles of river access lost in the creation of Blue Mesa Reservoir.

According to Pagano, “the county commissioners have been in discussions with representatives from the BOR and staff from Senator Bennett’s and Senator Gardner’s offices to identify funding support for the Shady Island project.”

Commissioner Jonathon Houck said, “What we realized is by programming this in a bigger scope than just river access, it really opens up a bunch of opportunities to find revenue for the project.” Pagano noted via email that there are a variety of grant opportunities through Great Colorado Outdoors, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Trout Unlimited and others.

The county commissioners gave staff the go-ahead to proceed in working on grant proposals. Pagano said the project would require a land use change permit, which will entail a planning review and more opportunity for public input. She did not have a timeline for when this would occur, but hopes for a winter review.

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