Nestled in the crook between two major highways, within close proximity to Denver, Boulder and Loveland, St. Vrain State Park sits at the epicenter of Colorado’s northern Front Range. Encompassing approximately 800 acres of land and water, the park’s abundant, year-round recreation opportunities attract a variety of visitors for camping, birding, wildlife viewing, hiking, boating and fishing.
In September of 2013, St. Vrain experienced massive flooding, which completely reshaped the park and altered its ecosystems. Thankfully, not all of the impacts were negative. In fact, the flood waters introduced some exciting changes at St. Vrain, especially for fishermen.
Blue Heron Reservoir
Blue Heron Reservoir is one of the park’s attractions that benefited from the flooding. Prior to the flood, Blue Heron was simply a borrow-pit full of shallow, brackish water. However, Blue Heron was completely transformed, overnight, when St. Vrain Creek overflowed its banks and flood waters filled the 82-acre reservoir to a depth of more than 15 feet. Because of the massive flooding, the reservoir opened to the public a year later—nearly a decade ahead of schedule. To further expedite and accommodate public access at the reservoir, the park staff built parking areas, restrooms, a boat ramp and a dock.
In addition, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) stocked Blue Heron with saugeye, catfish, panfish and bass. CPW biologists intend to manage the reservoir as a trophy bass fishery, which will provide exceptional opportunities to anglers in years to come. The flooding also inadvertently introduced a variety of other fish species to St. Vrain’s lakes and ponds. Anglers are now catching brown, brook and cutthroat trout, as well as wiper—species that were previously nonexistent prior to the flooding. Unfortunately, the flood waters also introduced common carp and northern pike. To manage these nuisance species, bow fishing is now allowed at the park and offers a fun alternative to fishing with a rod and reel.
Improved Fishing at St. Vrain
Bald eagles, osprey, pelicans, kingfishers, snowy egrets, night herons and great blue herons have also taken notice of the improved fishing at St. Vrain. The park once boasted the largest heron rookery in the state. With improved fish populations attracting the birds, St. Vrain will likely, once again, become one of the top bird-watching locations in the state.
Flooding is one of the most powerful forces on earth. It can carve mile-deep canyons and destroy property, but it can also bring life. The storms of 2013 brought about many changes to St. Vrain State Park, yet many of them have been beneficial. As the poet Paulo Coelho said, “I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature.” If rivers teach us anything, it is to keep our heads above water and go with the flow. St. Vrain has seen its share of storms in its first 50 years and will likely see many more in the next 50 years. But, for the time being, St. Vrain’s fisherman and many of its wildlife species will continue to enjoy the high-water mark.
Story written by Scott Reffel. Reffel is a park manager at St. Vrain State Park.