Waming temps, calm winds make lake a draw

Anglers edge their boat next to the barrier at Highline Lake early one morning. Calm water prevails until the lake comes alive with waterskiers and other fast-moving craft.

The holiday weekend found anglers spending a few reflective moments at Mack Mesa Lake in pursuit of trout and other fish. Mack Mesa is closed to motorized crafts, which makes it easy to float and standing on the dock. Around 4,000 fish have been stocked in Mack Mesa and Highline Lake in recent weeks.

This brown pelican was taking an early swim around Highline Lake Monday morning before the water was churned by motorboats and waterskiers. It’s not uncommon to see American White pelicans in Colorado and this unusual brown pelican, the smallest of the pelican family, has already made some birders’ lists. The brown pelican is the Louisiana state bird and is being imperiled by the ongoing oil spill off the Louisiana coast. See http://bit.ly/aIR032.

The long Memorial Day weekend brought out the sun, campers, and plenty of anglers and boaters to Colorado’s state parks, and it’s about time.

“We’ve been wondering when all the people would get here,” said Highline Lake State Park manager Alan Martinez early Monday. “With the wind and cold weather, it’s been pretty slow around here.”

No worry of that over the holiday weekend, though, as temperatures in the high 70s to mid-80s attracted many fans of this high-desert oasis.

The just-rising sun filtering through the leafy canopy of cottonwoods illuminated a campground filled to capacity.

“Yeah, we’ve been pretty busy this weekend,” said Danielle Kissner of Cedaredge, who was staffing the park’s west entrance early Monday morning. “It’s close to town so people can get here easily. And the nice weather really brought out the campers.”

This park usually fills its campsites over the Memorial Day holiday, and this year was no exception. It’s reversing what began as a slow season, Martinez said.

“We were down in March and it peaked a little in April but then the wind started and our visitations really dropped,” he said. “But we nearly hit boat capacity on the lake yesterday and we might hit it today.”

Boaters at Highline and most other lakes in Colorado, especially state parks and national recreation areas, must have their craft pre-launch inspected for invasive species.

Martinez said boaters initially were a bit hesitant but now have become accustomed to stopping for the fast-moving inspections.

“At first, there was a little complaining but now it seems they have a better understanding of why we’re doing this,” he said. “Some people said they’d go elsewhere but there isn’t anyplace you can go without needing an inspection.”

Martinez said many boaters now get a seal of inspection as they leave the water, which allows them to get on the water early the next morning, prior to the arrival of inspectors.

“We’ll have inspectors here at 6:30 in the morning on weekends and 7:30 on weekdays,” he said. “And we’ll have rangers on boats patrolling early, too.”

The penalty for not having your boat inspected is a $50 fine and eviction from the lake, Martinez said. “That makes it pretty expensive, plus you’ll still need an inspection to get back on the water.”

The lake recently was stocked with 4,000 pan-sized trout and as water temperatures continue to rise, other species also are being caught.

“I talked to one guy yesterday who caught several nice bass in the north end of the lake,” Martinez said. “He was out pretty deep in waders and said he hooked about five but lost a couple.”

Other parks also reported the holiday weekend to be at or near capacity.

Rifle Gap State Park filled all its 88 campsites and nearly reached parking capacity at the boat launch, said park gatekeeper May Higgins.

“When the parking area at the ramp is full, there’s no room for launching,” she said. “We don’t have a boat limit, we have a parking limitation.”

The 66 campsites at Crawford State Park also were filled this weekend, said park administrative assistant Kelly Beauchamp.

“This is one of our biggest weekends of the year, along with Pioneer Days in June,” Beauchamp said. She said the packed house was a combination of the holiday plus the local high school graduation.

“Regulars here know that if they don’t make a reservation early, they’ll be out of luck,” Beauchamp said.

Visitation here, also, was a bit slow until the weather changed, she said.

“It’s been a strange spring,” she said. “There was all that wind and two weeks ago we had snow here and I thought, ‘That’s enough of that.’

“But this weekend is gorgeous.”

Crawford offers anglers a mix of cool- and warmwater fishing, including bass, crappie, perch, catfish and pike.

“Three days ago a guy caught a really big pike,” Beauchamp said. “We didn’t measure it but he said was 44 inches long and weighed 33 pounds. It was a big, old fish.”

The lake is full, and while the swim beach is open, the water seems a bit chilly for swimming, Beauchamp said.

“But the kids seem to love it and they’re immune to the cold, anyway,” she said.

Pioneer Days on June 12 is especially active at Crawford. The activities at the park include a cookoff during the day and that evening the annual fireworks display.

“You’ll definitely want reservations for that weekend, too,” Beauchamp said.

Information is available from the park at 921-5721 or Colorado State Parks website, parks.state.co.us, then use the pull down menu to find Crawford.


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