A Small Town With Big Plans For Their River

By Joanie Muzzulin, Purgatoire River Anglers Chapter Secretary Southeastern Colorado and the town of Trinidad have been known for many things through the years, but a popular destination for fl y fi shing was not one of them. A group of passionate community members and a new Trout Unlimited Chapter are determined to change that.

Seventy-five years ago it was written in the local newspaper that water and fi shing could be a good tourist draw for Trinidad. But through the years the Purgatoire was plagued with floods and drought. In 1975 the Trinidad Lake Dam was built, controlling the fl oods but creating high summer velocity and very low winter fl ows in the river. About the time the dam opened, the last of the coal mines closed, and the economy of Trinidad faltered. No one seemed to care about the Purgatoire, and many had come to use it as a dumping ground.

But a few, like Chapter President Howard Lackey, could see beyond the trash and invasive plants and envision the potential of the Purgatoire River as a trout steam. Howard’s grandfather taught him the best way to recover from a stressful day of work is to take out the fl y rod, and that is easier to do with a stream near where you work and live. The Trinidad Community Foundation was founded in 2006, with a mission to improve the quality of life in Trinidad and Las Animas County. Howard was on the board of directors, and one of the fi rst projects tackled was improving the river corridor. The Foundation began a spring clean-up of the river corridor. They partnered with The Comcast Foundation, and this spring over 230 people volunteered at the Comcast Cares clean-up event.

Members from Chapter 509 Southern Colorado Greenbacks in Pueblo had become interested in the Purgatoire River a couple of years ago, and toured it with city offi cials and Kim Pacheco Schultz, the Executive Director of the Trinidad-Las Animas County Chamber of Commerce. They were excited by the possibilities but knew it would be difficult to work on a project 75 miles away. Chapter 509 generously off ered to allow a new TU chapter to form in their southeastern Colorado territory. A meeting was held in September 2009 to measure the local interest, and Chapter 100, Purgatoire River Anglers, came into being that night.

A year later, Chapter 100 has over 50 members in this sparsely populated area. The fi rst Embrace-a-Steam grant was applied for before the chapter was even fully chartered. Pete Gallagher of Fin-up Habitat Consultants was hired and has completed an assessment and a preliminary plan for a demonstration project in the center of Trinidad, where the Purgatoire River crosses under Interstate 25, past Cimino Park. It appears that funding for the initial phase will come this spring through generous donations from several partners, too numerous to mention in this limited space. Eradication of the invasive trees, mainly Russian olives, is being done by the State Forestry Service. Hopefully the first phase of the Purgatoire River Project will be completed by next winter. When the highway overpass replacement is finally finished on Interstate 25, travelers on their way into or out of Colorado will be able to look down at an inviting Purgatoire River and maybe consider stopping to fi sh awhile.

The community has rallied around the river project. No one says “no” when they are asked if they would like to help. They can envision the Purgatoire River as a beautiful asset to the community and are stepping up to make that dream happen.