Park manager reflects on 31 years of service
Had you asked Brad Taylor 31 years ago if he ever thought he’d see three decades with Colorado State Parks, his answer might have gone up in smoke.
In the summer of 1979, Taylor, recently graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in recreation and parks administration and fresh off a previous summer’s internship at Cherry Creek State Park, was a first-year park ranger at Bonny Lake State Park.
It’s an understatement to say some residents of eastern Colorado weren’t pleased to find their “private” park suddenly under the administration of what were admittedly some pretty green park rangers.
“Bonny had seven entrances at one time, and to solve some of the access issues we tried to block some of the roads,” Taylor remembered. “It got pretty bad for a while. We’d put up gates and they’d be torn down overnight. One night they burned the barricades.”
Unflattering signs and warnings appeared overnight, too, and for a while Taylor wondered if being a park ranger included good health insurance.
That, of course, was the worst. Other than the restless natives, Taylor remembered Bonny as “a fabulous place to work.”
“When I first got there, you could wade out to your chest and still see your toes,” he recalled. “I learned more about hunting and fishing there than ever.”
Now, after more than 31 years of managing various state parks around Colorado, the last 14 at James M. Robb — Colorado River State Park, Taylor is retiring at the end of this week.
His plans include spending more time with his wife Patty, a special-needs teacher for School District 51, with whom he’s never spent a summer’s vacation in spite of 30 years of marriage.
“When you think about it, she’s off in the summer and yet that’s my busiest time,” Taylor said earlier this week. “We’ve never had a summer together to go travel.”
Thirty-plus years also leave a lot of memories.
Taylor left Bonny after two years and transferred to Denver just in time for the opening of Chatfield State Park.
Shallow roots, he discovered, are part of a young park ranger’s life.
“For a while my address changed every 19 months,” he said.
From there, Taylor’s next stop was Trinidad Lake State Park and an education in the importance of water-based recreation.
“The four years I was there were the four lowest water years they’ve had,” Taylor said. “The reservoir went from 1,500 surface acres to 500.”
Visitations plummeted, and Trinidad suffered.
That underscores the impact water recreation has on people and the economy, he said, particularly in the dry West.
“I discovered that state parks are a pretty good economic stimulant, no matter where you are,” Taylor said.
That’s certainly true in the Grand Valley, where Taylor arrived in 1996 after another brief stop at Chatfield.
That year, Colorado River State Park consisted of Island Acres (mid-1960s), Corn Lake (added in 1992) and Connected Lakes (added in 1993).
In 1996, the Colorado River Wildlife Viewing Area at 30.5 and D roads was opened, and along with the first mid-segment of the Colorado Riverfront Trail.
That year, too, the first Colorado Legacy Grant, money dedicated to parks and open space from lottery proceeds, “energized the entire community and changed the face of the riverfront effort,” Taylor said.
Now named the James M. Robb — Colorado River State Park, the park also includes the Fruita section and miles of riverfront trail.
“When I first started, we had about 150 acres,” Taylor said. “Now, it’s 1,000 acres spread over 35 river miles from Island Acres to Fruita.”
Taylor was instrumental in getting a mile of the trail open to the public, and he’s always willing to tell people about it.
“It amazes me that I can talk to people at Corn Lake and they don’t know they can bike from 32 Road to 29 Road,” Taylor said. “For all the efforts we’ve made, people for some reason still don’t know (the trail is) out there.”
State parks play an important role in Grand Valley tourism, he said.
“People come here because there is so much to do 12 months a year,” said Taylor, who recalls people canning peaches in the Island Acres campground. “This valley is so vibrant and active, and the tourism here has been so well-planned and promoted. My two campgrounds (Island Acres and Fruita) reap the benefits of people coming here.”
Those visitors drop some serious money, too. Fourteen years ago, Corn Lake and Island Acres brought in about $250,000 in fees. Today, the entire Colorado River State Park system brings in upward of $1 million annually and attracts upward of 400,000 visitors, Taylor said.
That ranks it among the top four parks in the state, along with Chatfield, Cherry Creek and Pueblo.
Even though he’s emptying his office, Taylor’s legacy may live a while longer. His son Zach is a park ranger at Rifle Gap State Park.
“It’s really gone pretty fast, when you think about it,” Taylor said. “I’ve worked with some terrific people and I’ve got some wonderful memories.”