DOW manages wildlife areas to serve animals, working to prevent crime


Walter Walker State Wildlife Area

Drive time and distance: 11 minutes,  5.9 miles

Length: less than a mile on a paved trail

Hiking Time: 20 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

I wrote a column about Walter Walker State Wildlife Area a few months ago. It’s easy to find: Take the Riverside Parkway west past 24 Road where it turns into River Road. Travel another 2.7 miles and turn left just before River Road goes underneath Interstate 70, at Oneal Metals Company. Stay on that road for .3 miles and you’ll pull directly into the Walker SWA parking area.

I remember lots of activity here in the 1980s when I worked for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Corn Construction completed an immense amount of community service here to repair and improve a dike after the great Colorado River Flood of 1983. (As I recall, Corn was directed by the courts to do that after it got in a bit of trouble with bid-fixing.)

I took photos and videos of biologists and volunteers planting trees and shrubs. I remember helping build a nature trail with informational signs and an outdoor classroom beneath a tall cottonwood on the banks of the Colorado River.

But this urban wildlife area has “issues,” just like many urban wildlife and open space areas across our state and nation.

As one reader, Chrissie Coffey Nehrenberg, e-mailed: “My little family and I are new imports to Fruita (from Chapel Hill, NC), and we drove down to check out this recreation area yesterday… all along the unpaved trail were used condoms and porn, and it was pretty spooky. It didn’t seem dangerous, but it was dirty, and I’m sure that at certain times of the day, it isn’t the place you’d like to hang with the family.”

How embarrassing.

In my reply e-mail, I welcomed Chrissie and her family to Western Colorado, gave her a couple other ideas on local areas to enjoy, and forwarded her concerns to my old buddy Randy Hampton, a spokesperson for the Colorado DOW, the agency in charge of management here.

With Randy’s permission, I’m re-printing parts of that response. It addresses certain issues many public agencies face and I believe public awareness is important in this dialog:

... Unfortunately, you stumbled on one of the significant challenges that the Division of Wildlife and other land management agencies face. Secluded open spaces in urban areas are, sadly, the victim of people who just don’t care. All too often these places can attract illicit activities. Walter Walker SWA faces unique challenges because of its proximity to I-70, Highway 6&50 and a busy truck stop.

Walter Walker SWA is a spectacular resource. It is an urban wildlife area along the precious Colorado River corridor. The area provides a significant resting and breeding area for waterfowl here in the Grand Valley. The area also provides open space for numerous small game species including fox, raccoon, coyote, upland birds, songbirds and deer.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife manages our wildlife areas to best serve wildlife, so our limited resources are generally concentrated on improving wildlife habitat — such as the irrigated grain fields for deer and waterfowl, flooded fish breeding backwaters and cottonwood groves you might have noticed at Walter Walker.

Unlike state parks, we don’t typically manage our properties for public recreation — in fact, in many cases public recreation can be contrary to the seclusion needs of wildlife. Things we might do to cut down on the illicit activities (lights, patrols, elimination of brush), might actually make the area less secluded or beneficial for the critters that use the area.

We have done a lot of those habitat projects out there and we’ve got a truly dedicated local staff working on improving Walter Walker SWA. In the next year, we’ve budgeted some tamarisk removal, brush hog work, pond improvements, better signage, a new irrigated field and some additional cottonwood trees. It’s going to take time, but we have renewed our commitment to improving the area. Our local staff is making the effort to visit the area frequently and clean up trash as often as we can.

As an agency that receives no general fund tax revenue, our resources are limited. The (DOW) receives a majority of our funding through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. As those revenues have dwindled in recent years, we — like other agencies — have had to trim budgets. One of the first areas facing the funding ax is property management and personnel staffing. We wish we had the funds to do more things at Walker and to put more folks on staff to patrol it, but we don’t. We’re working on creative ways to get those funds, including applying for grants and working with some of the industrial park tenants (they want to cut down on the criminal element, too) but these things take time. ...

All good points, Randy.

It gives us something to ponder in 2010.


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