While McPhee Reservoir was designed to provide water to the arid landscape of Southwest Colorado, the completion of the project also created a large playground of recreational opportunities in Montezuma and Dolores counties.
The second largest artificial body of water in Colorado, the local reservoir offers a wide variety of experiences including fishing, boating, kayaking, water skiing and paddleboarding. The shoreline of the reservoir also offers opportunities for land-loving recreationists, with campgrounds, picnic areas and nonmotorized trails.
Id say it is probably one of the top five reservoirs in the entire western United States, said David Smith, owner of McPhee Boat Rentals. There are just so many opportunities.
The development of recreation sites was part of the Dolores Project from the beginning. In March of 1978, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Forest Service executed an interagency agreement for the planning and development of recreation areas, according to a bureau of reclamation history of the project written by Garrit Voggesser. The McPhee Recreation Area was completed first, at a cost of just over $4 million. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at the site in May of 1986. The McPhee site features the McPhee Campground, located on the south shore and overlooking the lake, with 76 camping sites.
The House Creek Recreation Site was completed in October 1987, at a cost of nearly $1.6 million. The site allows direct access to the shoreline and provides 60 camping sites.
The reservoir itself is managed primarily as a warm water mixed species lake by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and black crappie are all found beneath the waters of the lake.
According to information from parks and wildlife, the reservoir provides roughly 16,000 angler days per year, with an estimated total catch of 24,000 fish.
Fishing is the most common thing on the reservoir, Smith said. But there are so many other activities, including a slalom course that is there year round for skiers.
Beyond the obvious recreation benefits of the reservoir, the Dolores Project also provided recreation opportunities through the creation of Joe Rowell Park in Dolores and enhanced flows on the Lower Dolores River, below the McPhee dam.
The other thing that McPhee provided, is a means of managing the flows below the reservoir, said Dolores Water Conservation District General Manager Mike Preston. Usually we were in drought early and the flows would trail off. But now, those flows are managed to provide rafting flows in and around Memorial Day and so on. It gave us the ability to manage recreation opportunities in regards to recreational boating.
The flows from the reservoir into the Lower Dolores also provide additional fishing opportunities, particularly for those interested in fly fishing.
Additionally, the presence of the reservoir has benefited wildlife. Three native fish species call the Lower Dolores home, including the flannelmouth sucker, the bluehead sucker and the roundtail chub. All three benefit from the managed flows from the reservoir, according to a report from the Lower Dolores Working Group. And according to the bureau of reclamations website, land acquired and managed for wildlife conservation has provided habitat for a variety of wildlife species.
Smith said he would like to see the reservoir and the surrounding area used more for recreation purposes.
It is way underutilized, he said. It is a wonderful resource and asset in this area. It is just amazing. Some days you can be the only person on the lake.
Journal Staff Writer Reid Wright contributed to this report.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]