Go for the Gold: Lucy Ferril Ela Wildlife Sanctuary and Connected Lakes full of color
If you have not taken advantage of the golden opportunity to stroll along the banks of the Colorado River through the Grand Valley in the past week or so, you should flog yourself.
The colors along the river have been fantastic this late into fall. However, with the weather turning from sunny and warm, to cloudy and cold those colors are rapidly fading.
I’ve been riding the Riverfront Trail a lot recently, enjoying the colors. On Wednesday, though, I hiked over to Connected Lakes Park — officially the James M. Robb Colorado River State Park at Connected Lakes — and the Grand Valley Audubon Society’s Lucy Ferril Ela Wildlife Sanctuary.
The fall colors here were stunning.
Adjacent to each other, the wildlife sanctuary and park are conveniently located only five minutes from downtown GJ. How cool is that?
I caught it just right. As I entered the park off Dike Road, I traveled under a colorful canopy of bright yellow Fremont Cottonwoods, made more brilliant with the ominous dark gray clouds creeping over the western horizon.
In October 2005 the Colorado State Parks Board honored the memory of Jim Robb by adding his name to the park he helped create. A Grand Junction civic leader, former parks board member and chairman, 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. It actually consists of five sections along the Colorado River as it flows through the valley. Each one of them have been fabulously loaded with fall colors this past month.
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.
To find Connected Lakes and the Lucy Ferril Ela Sanctuary, take Grand Avenue across the Colorado River to where it turns into Broadway. Turn right on Dike Road just before you get to Albertsons and drive to the state park (veer right at the fork in the road behind the shopping center and stay on Dike Road). You’ll find the Grand Valley Audubon Society property on your left, and the wildlife sanctuary on your right before you enter the State Park.
Handicap parking is available at the wildlife sanctuary. Others can park near the Grand Valley Audubon Society property on the opposite side of the road and visit this area, then walk into the park. Or, you can continue your drive into the park and pay a $7 daily user fee (It’s $70 for a yearly pass, $60 for seniors, age 64-plus, and annual passes are good from month of purchase for 12 months).
You can also park near the now defunct Blockbuster store in the Albertsons parking lot and take the Audubon Trail into Connected Lakes.
Upon entering the Lucy Ferril Ela Wildlife Sanctuary, you’ll find the new “Birding Trail for Everyone.” This nature trail was specially designed for people with visual or physical disabilities. It opened officially in mid-September and winds through the southeast portion of the Wildlife Sanctuary.
Not only is it covered with a special hard-packed gravel surface suitable for wheelchairs and walkers, motion-activated speakers play descriptions and songs of birds found in the area at several locations. Numerous benches allow the casual wildlife observer to sit quietly, listen and learn.
You will be amazed and fascinated with what you see as you travel the partially wood-chipped trail that meanders around the remainder of the area. Most of the shallow, sometimes flooded marshes adjacent to the river are dry as a bone this time of year.
The wildlife sanctuary “protects wildlife habitat and provides educational opportunities for visitors,” according to a well-designed kiosk at the start of the trail. This area 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.
People and wildlife have benefited from the great trail work of the Grand Valley Audubon Society and partners from the Grand Junction Lions Club, Mesa County Weekenders Work Force, Endangered Fish Recovery Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and many volunteers.
Nearly 80 percent of all bird species in Colorado will frequent riparian zones such as the one here on the Colorado River, yet only 3 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 down Dike Road to this wonderful wildlife sanctuary and state park.
If you missed the spectacular fall colors, you should flog yourself, but it’s still a cool area, even when the trees are bare.