Sweetwater Lake is Colorado’s newest state park

Courtesy of Tom Lotshaw
The 488-acre Sweetwater Lake Park is Colorado’s newest state park.

Colorado officials debuted a new state park Wednesday: Sweetwater Lake, a former ranch about 18 miles north of Dotsero. 

The park, Colorado’s 43rd, is the first state park in the nation to open on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service, said Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Chris Arend. The 488-acre Sweetwater Lake park is located in the White River National Forest and will be managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife in partnership with the federal agency and a local land trust.

“This park is the result of the first-of-its-kind partnership in the entire nation ... to have a state park on U.S Forest Service land,” Gov. Jared Polis said at a public event overlooking the lake.

The Forest Service bought the ranch this summer from the Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit that purchased the property in 2021, partly through a fundraising campaign organized by the Eagle Valley Land Trust.

Investors and private developers owned the lake and its surrounding caves and mountains for decades, Conservation Fund officials said. Competing bids sought to build a lakeside hotel and to use the springs for bottled water.

“Individual donors, many of whom live on the road… built the foundation of the ‘Save the Lake’ campaign,” said Jessica Foulis, executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust. “They were the hearts of this grassroots fundraising effort.”

The lake was identified as one of the top 10 priorities by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program that protects outdoor recreation and wildlife habitats, according to a spokesperson with the governor’s office.

The collaboration between the state and federal government to run Sweetwater Lake is an extension of a “shared stewardship agreement” started by Polis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2019, said Dan Gibbs, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. 

“My hope is that this will be one of many [state parks] as we look to partner with the U.S. Forest Service,” Gibbs said.

Sweetwater Lake has few facilities currently. A new boat launch and other amenities are expected to open by June 2022, Polis said. Other improvements could include upgraded trailheads and campgrounds, Conservation Fund officials said.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story referred to Sweetwater Lake as Colorado's first state park on land that isn’t state-owned. That is incorrect. It is the first state park in the nation to open on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service."