South Park Ranch Recreation Program

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Gary Nichols, Director, Park County Office of Tourism and Community Development

 South Park Flyfisher
The resource, the ranches, and anglers each gain benefits through the South Park Flyfishers Program.

Using a Legacy grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), Park County has teamed up with a group of local ranchers to provide public recreation opportunities on private lands in South Park.

For a reasonable daily fee, fly-fishermen now have access to some of the highest quality trout streams in the state. These properties have never been open to the public but are now available by reservation (only) for a daily fee. Because of the secluded nature and limited public access on these properties, the fishing has garnered glowing reviews. Angler reports indicate that all of the leases are exceeding program expectations, both in terms of the quality of fishing and the overall experience. For instance, a notable fishing guide from Silverthorne, Colorado had the following comments after fishing one of our leases on July 20, 2004: “What an amazing piece of water with a great variety of structure…I saw many huge fish chase my streamers and a few short takes…I also landed a real nice 19″ rainbow…The fish are very strong and healthy.”

The fishing program is part of the South Park Basin Legacy grant project, a $6 million effort to conserve 14 working ranches encompassing 30 miles of stream corridor and 17,000 acres of wetlands and agricultural lands along three headwater tributaries of the South Platte River. Conceived by Park County Tourism Director, Gary Nichols, the fishing program recreates an opportunity that existed in Colorado during the 1960s. At that time Nichols’ father would offer local ranchers a few bucks to fish on their properties. But most of the properties have changed hands multiple times over the years and the opportunity to fish them no longer exists to te public.

In 1994 Nichols and several others established the Park County Heritage Program to “conserve the areas’ most valuable natural, cultural and recreational (heritage) resources, and utilize them to generate new sustainable economies” in this rural area. Over the last 10 years the program has successfully preserved many historic buildings, conserved a number of working ranches and restored five miles of stream and riparian habitat. But it wasn’t until December 2002 that funding and landowner interest converged at the same time to secure public fishing leases on multiple ranches in South Park. The underlying goal of this program is provide ranchers with additional income on their properties, while establishing a new, innovative recreation program that doesn’t currently exist in Colorado. This year (2005) Nichols has teamed up with several ranchers in the area to provide a variety of lodging and other recreation opportunities (horseback riding, wildlife viewing, mountain biking and rock climbing) in close proximity to the fishing program leases.

Any local property that contains a quality stream or lake(s) is eligible to participate in the fishing program. GOCO has expressed a preference to engage property owners that are willing to place a conservation easement on their property as part of the Legacy Project, but has not restricted participation to such properties. At the same time, Park County has secured funding to restore stream and riparian habitat on these and other ranches in the Tarryall Creek corridor.

 
Location of and the ranches involved in the South Park Flyfishers Program.

The GOCO Legacy grant represents a one-time opportunity to provide participating landowners with a guaranteed fishing lease payment for two consecutive years. In return, landowners have agreed to allow a limited number of fly fishermen on their properties each day, with certain restrictions. All properties are catch-and-release and all fish must be returned immediately to the water. Fishing is by fly rods and artificial flies only (no bait, lures or chemical attractants).

A maximum number of two anglers shall not be exceeded on any property. All persons on the premises must obtain a daily permit and sign a hold harmless form before proceeding to properties.

The annual lease payment that each landowner receives is based on the length/size of their stream, how many anglers are permitted per day, and the number of days per season. For instance, the annual lease payment for a 1/2-mile stretch of river that allows one angler per day is proportionately less than a 3-mile stretch that allows four anglers per day.

In addition, a portion of each rod fee collected from anglers is paid to participating landowners. The balance of rod fee revenues will be used to secure leases after the GOCO grant is exhausted at the end of 2005.

The most cost-effective tool for managing angler reservations is a Web Site that performs on-line transactions. Accordingly, the program Web site currently includes the following:

  1. a general discussion about the program (philosophy, fee structure, regulations);
  2. descriptions, photos, maps and current conditions for each participating property; and
  3. an on-line reservation calendar and credit card payment form.

Anglers wishing to reserve a South Park property simply go to the Web Site, see which properties are available on a given day, and reserve a property by submitting the on-line reservation form (including credit card number). Their account is automatically charged at the time of reservation. Reservations are instantly updated and forwarded by email to local property managers who issue permits to anglers upon their arrival in South Park.

For more information about the South Park Fly Fishers Program or the South Park Basin Legacy grant project, please visit www.southparktrout.com or contact Gary Nichols at             719-836-4279       (gnichols@amigo.net).