Imagining Fishers Peak – Flash Flood Turns Trails into Rivers

Never have I experienced a professional heartbreak quite like seeing the hard work of so many, literally washed away by the flash flooding.
Video: Fishers Peak State Park Closed Due to Flooding
Crystal Dreiling
Park Manager Crystal Dreiling stands with the iconic Fishers Peak in the background.

On one hand, it’s an incredible privilege to be the very first manager of Fishers Peak State Park. I am honored – humbled, actually – to help shape what I believe is going to be a flagship in Colorado’s state parks lineup.

This is the kind of project that few park managers ever get to undertake. It has been exhilarating at times as we acquired and opened a small portion of the park in record time for a state park. 

Rarely in my 18-year parks career have I been so proud as I was last Oct. 30 when I watched Gov. Jared Polis cut the ribbon to open the first 250 acres of the 19,200-acre Fishers Peak State Park.

But, on the other hand, I have to admit that serving as the park manager for Fishers Peak State isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. 

There are great challenges, daily and long-term, that make things difficult. The public process of developing a master plan on such a massive property is slow and painstaking. This is undoubtedly the nature of planning for recreation and conservation on the same landscape. 

We need to make sure all voices are heard and that we get this park developed the right way.

One day I can be completely surprised and inspired by this project, and the very next day I can be completely frustrated and deflated.

More frustrating, even heartbreaking, are those unexpected challenges totally out of my control.

Like the weekend of May 22-23, 2021.

Two Days of Rain

For two days, the clouds opened and dumped 3 inches of rain on the area.

Never have I experienced a professional heartbreak quite like seeing the blood, sweat and tears of so many volunteers, local contractors and Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff literally washed away with the flash flooding that occurred.

On May 24, I assessed the flood damage at both of the parks I manage – Fishers Peak and nearby Trinidad Lake State Park. 

At Trinidad Lake, the water level in the lake rose an astonishing 11 feet in 36 hours that weekend! And we nearly lost two of our gravel roads to the remarkable volume and force of run-off in the Purgatoire River and Longs Creek. Both of those roads remain closed for safety reasons. 

severe erosion along park road
At Trinidad Lake State Park, severe erosion from heavy rains prompted closure of two gravel roads due to the remarkable volume and force of run-off in the Purgatoire River and Longs Creek. 

The wetlands and the pond in the Longs Canyon area were overcome with silt carried by the floodwaters. And acres of wetland shrubs, willows and grasses were mowed by the deluge.

wetlands and pond overcome with silt
The wetlands and the pond in the Longs Canyon area were overcome with silt carried by the floodwaters. And acres of wetland shrubs, willows and grasses were mowed by the deluge.

Fishers Peaks State Park Damage

At Fishers Peaks State Park, the damage was far worse. The terrain is steep and rugged and the weekend’s endless rains transformed numerous arroyos into angry rivers, sending water crashing down onto our hard-earned Sneak Peek location: our Fishers Peak Trailhead and modest trail system.

A long-standing old ranch road was washed away to reveal a creek bed, hidden for decades. That portion of our trails became a sparkling, meandering creek following the rains. What once was an open meadow became a pond in the flood’s aftermath, with wild things chirping, croaking and buzzing with activity.

old park road
A long-standing old ranch road was washed away to reveal a creek bed, hidden for decades. That portion of our trails became a sparkling, meandering creek following the rains. What once was an open meadow became a pond in the flood’s aftermath, with wild things chirping, croaking and buzzing with activity.

Deposited carelessly along the path of the flood waters we found giant uprooted, waterlogged trees and small boulders. Our main trail was hardly recognizable under the rubble and amid the drastic changes to the terrain. 

Our parking area, once so new and chiseled and orderly, was stripped of approximately six inches of gravel, leaving an eight- to ten-inch lip around the handicapped-accessible concrete parking pad. 

Ruts were created in the entrance road and a portion of our split rail fencing and concrete parking stops crumbled and rolled due to ground shifting near our parking lot.

Ruts were created in the entrance road and a portion of the split rail fencing and concrete parking stops crumbled and rolled due to ground shifting near our parking lot.

With Fishers Peak Trailhead turned inside out, we closed the area to the public for safety concerns. And we immediately set out to build our inaugural trailhead – for a second time.

On the morning of June 19, after many long, hot days of work for local contractor, MGM Excavating, we were able to open the trailhead again to the public. While we have much more work to do in the coming months and years, at least we were able to give the people back their park.

I’m sure it’s not the last frustration we’ll face at Fishers Peak. After all, this is a landscape of extreme topography with its 9,633-foot-tall signature peak, cliffs and steep hillsides largely untamed by development. 

But what inspires me is the vision and momentum that we have for providing both awe-inspiring recreation and meaningful habitat protection on this land for generations to come.

As I get back to work on your newest state park, I want to thank our public for their patience and understanding during these closures. And watch for more updates on our new Facebook Page for Fishers Peak State Park.


Written by Crystal Dreiling. Crystal Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Fishers Peak/Trinidad Lake Park Manager. Editor’s Note: This is a regular monthly column from Colorado Parks and Wildlife about the creation of Fishers Peak State Park near Trinidad by a career park manager. 

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