Cheney Reservoir, planned since 1887, a bird-watching oasis
Cheney Reservoir, less than 20 miles southwest of Grand Junction on U.S. Highway 50, is an oasis in the middle of the desert. Today Cheney is a great place for bird-watchers to view a wide assortment of waterfowl, shorebirds and other water-loving birds.
Kathleen McGinley, a local bird-watcher, said that on her last visit in November her group spotted a Canada goose, Northern pintail (duck for non-birders), ring-necked duck, sandhill crane, horned lark, mountain bluebird and American coot. Others have seen the red-winged blackbird, yellow warbler and Bullock’s oriole.
However, the reservoir was not built to be a bird sanctuary.
According to Mesa County land records, Cheney Reservoir has been around since 1887, when it was called Indian Creek Reservoir. This makes sense, as Indian Creek is one of the two creeks that fill the reservoir. The idea behind the reservoir was to bring water to the proposed new Rogers Ditch, which would supply irrigation to farmers. The majority of the reservoir is on Bureau of Land Management property.
Through the years, several different owners held property rights to the land for the proposed reservoir.
Jack Golden started the Rogers Ditch, but for reasons unknown he abandoned the project, which the Angell Brothers took over. The Angell Brothers also abandoned the project.
In 1907 Thomas Cheney filed on what was then called Indian Creek Reservoir, but according to the Colorado State Engineer’s office, the filing was incorrect and had to be redone. It apparently was correctly done the second time, as work on the reservoir progressed.
A new survey was done on Nov. 9, 1908, by Richard Meserve. According to the survey, the height of the main dam was to be 48 feet and the lesser dam, 26 feet. The total capacity of the reservoir was to be 98 million cubic feet of water for the irrigation project at an estimated cost of $25,000. The water for the dam was to be supplied by Indian and Deer creeks.
In 1910 Thomas Cheney , E.H. Rodgers, Mary Rogers and Frank Rogers hired Richard Meserve, the main water engineer in the area, and his brother, William, as engineers on the ditch project. The estimated construction cost for the Rogers Ditch was $1,850.
Despite the fact that Thomas Cheney filed to build the reservoir in 1910, he did not complete his homestead in that area until 1913. A few months later he sold the property to Eliza Cheney for $3,000. Eliza resold the land to C.E. Rogers in April 1915. Joseph Cheney completed a homestead on an adjoining property in 1915.
In 1917 Charles Hooker purchased 160 acres, which included the site of the reservoirs, from Rogers for $700. Hooker then established a cattle ranch where he and his wife, Irma, raised their 14 children. He sold out in 1937.
A partnership agreement was formed in 1918 with Hooker and neighbors, Frances L. Hooker, Clyde Hooker, Erik Westin, Paul Read, Irvin Read, Joseph Hovarka, Frank Rogers and Joseph Cheney. The water rights were divided, and the partnership finished construction of the 2,248-acre-foot dam.
In 1919, Joseph W. Cheney sold his land to Erik Westin, who also had homesteaded adjoining property.
Julie E. Reed purchased the Westin estate in 1925. The estate included 160 acres he had homesteaded in addition to the 40 acres he had purchased from Joseph Cheney.
There are several foundations on both sides of the road going up to the reservoir. They are most likely the remains of structures Westin built to make up his ranch.
On the east side of the road going up to the reservoir are several acres that would have been part of the Indeer Ranch, named because the ranch would have been where Indian and Deer creeks come together in the reservoir.
By 1941 Joe King had acquired the private property of Cheney Reservoir, and it is now owned by the Harris family.
Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel. She is involved in many local preservation efforts and is on the board of directors for Colorado Preservation Inc.