There are many ways to use the Colorado River other than just relying on its water, a panel of local people who have been working to create more public access to the river told participants at a water conference Wednesday.
As recently as 30 years ago, the community was like many others in the nation, the panelists told participants at the 2017 Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum at Colorado Mesa University. The forum continues today.
"We didn't do a great job of treating the river with respect," said Stacy Beaugh, executive director of the Tamarisk Coalition, who moderated a panel of five local residents who have, in their own ways, been working on ways to help revitalize the riverfront.
"There was no public access to the river for boating or anything 30 years ago," said Beaugh, who also is co-chairwoman of the Colorado Riverfront Commission. "We had a bunch of junk cars and uranium mill tailings all over the river. It was pretty gross."
The panel — Brian Mahoney, Colorado Riverfront Commission and Foundation board member; Cindy Enos-Martinez, a Riverside neighborhood resident and former Grand Junction mayor; Traci Wieland, Grand Junction's recreation superintendent; Thaddeus Shrader, part owner of Bonsai Design; and Jen Taylor, owner of Mountain Khakis — talked about the work they and others have done since then to clean up the riverfront.
Over those years, the city, the commission, the Grand Junction Lions Club and many other groups and individuals have dedicated their time and money on various projects to, first, clean up the river, and then to provide public access to it.
Lately, that access has now included development of Las Colonias Park along with a business park along a two-mile section where the Colorado and Gunnison rivers meet.
It all began thanks to many people, but particularly to Mahoney and the Lions Club, who have been working on revitalization of the riverfront since the 1980s.
"In 1986, this project actually started in the minds of many people at the Lions Club," Mahoney said. "In 1986, it was almost the bottom of the oil shale bust, the economy had gone to hell in a hand basket, and there were 1,400 home foreclosures. They could have put a sign up on the edge of town, 'The last one out, turn out the lights.'"
The six talked about how the effort snowballed over the years, and attracted not only many volunteers, but also state and local grant money to get things done. What needs to happen next, the group said, is more of the same.
"More and more over the past few years, more community members were coming together," Shrader said. "There's change in the air. There's an amazing opportunity here."