DEL NORTE— Emma Reesor, executive director of the Rio Grande Headwater Restoration Project (RGHRP) was the keynote speaker during the Upper Rio Grande Economic Development (URGED) meeting in Monte Vista on Tuesday. The presentation was based on the Del Norte Riverfront Project and the steps that were taken through the partnership of several organizations to make the dream become a reality.
Reesor began by explaining the history of RGHRP, which is a non-profit group that began in 2001 with the sole purpose of protecting the Rio Grande River and helping to maintain it as the life blood for the San Luis Valley. “We work closely with private landowners and irrigation companies to maintain, repair and enhance riparian restoration along the Rio Grande. We have worked to replace 100-year old diversion dams, head gates and irrigation canals and helped to educate the public on watershed stewardship through our outreach and education programs,” said Reesor.
The RGHRP was brought on board with the Del Norte Riverfront Project in 2015 when the project was in the permit stage. “We came to the table with experience with riverfront projects and grant writing, but we quickly realized that we had never worked on a project quite like this. It was both a daunting and rewarding experience and we learned a lot along the way,” said Reesor.
The project was funded through private donations and several grants, one of which was a game changer early on in the project when Great Outdoors Colorado awarded the project $350,000. Other grants that helped fund the total project included $190,000 from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, $35,000 from the Laura Jane Musser Fund, $62,500 from the SLV Conservation Connection Initiative, $20,000 from Rio Grande County, $5,000 from Del Norte Bank, $10,000 from private donations and several in-kind donations from the Town of Del Norte which gives the project a $750,000 budget to work with.
RGHRP worked through the fall and winter of 2018/2019 to complete the first stage of the project which was the boat ramp and access road. The entire project will include a play wave, public access to the river, a picnic area and parking lot. Work will resume this fall, sometime in late October/early November when water levels are at their lowest and some animal species are done nesting for the year.
“We learned through several community conversations that people genuinely wanted access to the river for their families. We are not creating anything similar to Salida, because we are not Salida and our focus is on public and community access while having some recreational benefits for rafters and kayakers. Our goal is to stimulate the community and use our best resource, the Rio Grande,” said Reesor.
The project has taken several years to complete and consisted of several planning stages, permitting and design to come to the final construction. A feasibility report was done in 2008 with permit submission finally taking place in 2015. “Things like this take a lot of time and planning. We learned a lot through this process, with the most important thing being to celebrate our successes with the community and make them a part of this process,” said Reesor.
The project is expected to be complete before runoff next year.