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Improved Boater Access on Colorado’s Upper San Juan River

PAGOSA SPRINGS, Colo. – Public access to recreation amenities is a priority for outdoor advocates in Southwest Colorado and a new project to greatly improve an access point for boaters on the San Juan River is in the planning stage.

A group of residents and organizations is working to build a safe and sustainable river take-out ramp about 12 miles south of Pagosa Springs along Archuleta County Road 500, also known as Trujillo Road. Boaters have rafted this section of the San Juan — known as Mesa Canyon — for years, but access has become crowded as more people use the area.

“This is the signature run in the Pagosa area, it’s a beautiful section to float and it’s become very popular,” said Tobi Rohwer, owner of Pagosa Outside. “We’ll improve the take-out and build a parking lot to get vehicles off the road.”

The Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership, a regional stakeholder group that includes a variety of private and public organizations, is coordinating a fundraising effort for the project. Fundraising for the project is being directed by The Great Outdoors Fund, a national nonprofit organization that helps raise money for recreation and conservation.

“This is an important project for people in Southwest Colorado; The Great Outdoors Fund is happy to provide our expertise to help get this built,” said Lori McCullough, founder and CEO of the Great Outdoors Fund.

The Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership was formed in 2018 to explore cooperative projects that meet multiple water needs in the Upper San Juan Basin and to advance the goals of the statewide Colorado Water Plan.

“The group is studying everything related to water in the upper San Juan River Basin, including recreation, agriculture and environmental needs,” explained Ryan Unterreiner, a water resource specialist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The agency is a member of the watershed partnership.

Other members of the partnership include: the town of Pagosa Springs, Trout Unlimited, Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District, Pagosa Outside, San Juan Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, Mountain Studies Institute, Colorado Division of Water Resources, Banded Peak Ranch, the U.S. Forest Service, local irrigation companies and others.

The boat ramp project provides a great example of how local private-public partnerships can be built, Rohwer explained. Another ramp that had been used for years was on private land and the owner decided to close it a couple of years ago. So the Friends of the Upper San Juan approached another nearby landowner and asked if a take-out could be located at that site which is right next to the road. The landowner agreed and sold an acre of river property to the town of Pagosa Springs for just $5,000.

Archuleta County officials have agreed to help with some construction materials and maintenance of the parking lot and a Pagosa Springs engineer, Chris Pitcher, is designing the eddy structure and take-out at no cost. Town staff is helping with planning documents and some site improvements and other organizations in the partnership are contributing expertise and helping with fundraising.

“Even a small project like this can be complicated,” said Unterreiner. “But when people and organizations agree to work together for a common goal a lot of good things can happen that will benefit local communities.”

The organizers plan to raise $65,000 for the project.

Projects like these bring together a variety of partners and help promote collaboration among various water users, said Mely Whiting, a staff attorney for Trout Unlimited and a member of the regional watershed partnership.

“These are the kinds of efforts Trout Unlimited likes to support,” Whiting said.
“Today, partners help recreation, tomorrow agriculture, the next day the environment. And
all of it benefits our local economy.”

To find out more about the project and to make donations, go to The Great Outdoors Fund web site at:

For more information about the project, send an email to, or James Dickhoff, Pagosa Springs planning director at

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