“I caught it all by myself!” Rylee Sanchez, 5, said excitedly after catching a fish in the Jackson Gulch Reservoir at the Mancos State Park.
Sanchez was fishing with her father, Matt, on Monday, the first day the park fully reopened to public use. Parts of the park have been closed since June 13 because of extreme fire risk. The only section that remained open was the main campground; the west campground, hiking trails and shoreline fishing were all closed.
“It was a tinderbox over there for a while,” said Vicki Coss, a park staffer. “All the grass was just crispy ... the moisture in the oak brush and the trees got so low that it was hazardous. A month or two of recreation wasn’t worth the risk of lives or property damage.”
Many homes surround the reservoir, so the park has to keep in mind the safety and interests of its neighbors. The risk was just too high that a spark from machinery or a car muffler could set off a fire, Coss said.
However, recent rains and an increase in humidity have allowed the vegetation to green up, even though most storms in the past month missed the park.
“People ask us about why the (San Juan National) forest opened and we didn’t,” Coss said.
“That’s because when the storms come off the mountains, they split and go around us. The forest was getting rain this whole time, and Mancos was getting rain, but we weren’t getting rain. That’s why we were slower (to open).”
Staff members certainly felt the effects of the park closure.
“It just really put a damper on us. Our biggest thing is not being able to run equipment, not spreading gravel on sites, not maintaining the road, because we don’t want any spark coming off, Coss said. “You can’t ask the public not to do one thing and then them see us doing it.”
In preparation for reopening, bathrooms and campsites had to be cleaned and spruced up to be ready for use, Coss said, and several signs and ropes were taken down.
But even though the park is open again, the danger has not passed. According to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website, the park is still under Stage II restrictions, which ban “building, maintaining, attending or using a campfire, charcoal, coal or stove fire.” In addition, smoking is allowed only in vehicles.
Still, enough moisture accumulated in recent storms to justify reopening closed parts of the park, and the park staff couldn’t be happier.
“We’re glad to be open again,” Coss said.
“We just want to thank the community for bearing with us and helping us get through this tough time.”