Take trek close to home, enjoy some fresh air near Connected Lakes
Need a quick fix? Connected Lakes. It’s close. It’s easy. It’s quick.
Just head to the Audubon Section of the Colorado River Trail system. It starts near Blockbuster Video in the Redlands Marketplace at the northwest corner of Broadway (Colorado Highway 340) and Dike Road on the Redlands. It then links with the trail system in the James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park at Connected Lakes.
In October 2005, the Colorado State Parks Board honored the memory of Robb by adding his name to the park he helped create. A Grand Junction civic leader, former parks board member and chair, elected representative and champion of state parks, Robb also helped to create the Colorado Riverfront Foundation.
Connected Lakes is only one part of this unique state park that actually consists of five sections along the Colorado River as it flows through the valley. From Island Acres on the east through Corn Lake, the Colorado River Wildlife Area, Connected Lakes and down the river to Fruita, this pretty park flows with the river.
The Audubon/Connected Lakes section is a 1.5 mile paved path suitable for hiking, walking, strolling, jogging, biking, inline skating and wheelchair use.
Trail users may park in the parking lot of the shopping center or in Connected Lakes State Park (with a valid State Parks pass). This trail also links with the Blue Heron Trail and the Riverside Trail via the pedestrian/bike path over the Colorado River along Broadway.
The Audubon Trail lies within the floodplain of the Colorado River and parallels the tailrace from the Redlands Water and Power company hydroelectric plant. A variety of river-bottom habitats can be seen along the trail, including cottonwood groves, cattail marshes and recovering gravel ponds.
Before the trail enters the state park, you can cross the somewhat barren lot that will be the future home for the Grand Valley Audubon Nature Center, then cross Dike Road and enter the Lucy Ferril Ela Wildlife Sanctuary. You will be both amazed and fascinated with what you see as you travel the partially wood-chipped trail that meanders around the shallow flooded marshes adjacent to the river.
The wildlife sanctuary “protects wildlife habitat and provides educational opportunities for visitors,” according to a well-designed kiosk at the start of the Ela trail around the wetlands area. It is named after birder and conservationist Lucy Ferril Ela, another longtime resident of Western Colorado who died in 1991, two months shy of her 101st birthday.
According to local birders from the Audubon Society, bird species commonly seen in the area include Mallard, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Northern Flicker, Black-billed Magpie, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, European Starling, White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, and House Finch.
Other sightings that are not unusual are the Great Blue Heron, Wood Duck, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Crow, Common Raven, Bushtit, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Spotted Towhee, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird and Evening Grosbeak.
No motorized vehicles (except wheelchairs) are allowed on the trail. Bicyclists and inline skates are asked to stay on the paved trail, maintain a safe speed and announce their approach before passing walkers.
Dogs must be leashed. Young children must be supervised because of the danger posed by the rushing water of the canal that runs parallel to the path, and the river adjacent to the wildlife sanctuary.
Portions of the area might look like scraped earth. You’ll see dirt, chopped-down plants, even an old, yellow school bus on adjacent property. The area has obviously been disturbed by human activity, but all is not what it seems.
Volunteers from the local Audubon Society have been working diligently for years to eradicate non-native vegetation such as Russian Olive, tamarisk, knapweed and thistle that have displaced native vegetation and diminished valuable wildlife habitat. Thousands of hours have also been logged by the volunteers, especially the tireless Bluebird Bob Wilson, in planting new trees and shrubs in the area.
Some of the chopped-down vegetation was burned. Some of it was mulched and used as the base for the trail around Lucy’s sanctuary. Soon, a nature center for research and education will enhance the area.
Both people and wildlife will benefit, since nearly 80 percent of all bird species in Colorado will frequent riparian zones such as the one here on the Colorado River, yet only three percent of the landmass in Colorado lies within a riparian zone.
This riparian zone is important, and it’s always changing. Just as the river finds the path of least resistance to the sea, you, too can find your way to the Audubon Trail and around Connected Lakes and the Lucy Ferril Ela Wildlife Sanctuary by following the path of least resistance. Only 1.3 miles from downtown GJ, it’s a quick, easy place to go to stretch the legs and enjoy some fresh air.