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Sweetwater Lake, Garfield County, Colorado (Todd Winslow Pierce)

Historic Sweetwater Lake, above the Colorado River in Garfield County, just got new owners — and they’re here to protect it. 

The White River National Forest completed its acquisition Tuesday of the lake and the 488 acres surrounding it adjacent to the Flat Tops Wilderness, marking a victory in conservationists’ efforts to protect the pristine oasis from residential developers and save the area for the public to fish, boat, swim and camp. 

The deal will protect wildlife habitat and create new recreational access, a spokesman for the White River National Forest said in a news release. The Conservation Fund bought the lake and surrounding land last year to stop potential development while the Forest Service waited for funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund to make a purchase.

“Sweetwater Lake has been cherished in this region for decades,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said in the release. “We are thrilled to expand the public access to this area and very grateful for all of the local support we received for this acquisition.” 

While the land is largely open to the public, some ranch buildings and cabins will be off-limits until the Forest Service completes its evaluation and long-term management plan for the area, Fitzwilliams said.

Tuesday’s acquisition was years in the making. Two years ago, the Conservation Fund and the Eagle Valley Land Trust linked up in an effort to buy the property from a Denver investment group and deed it to the White River National Forest, which has long pined for the Sweetwater Lake Ranch.

Last summer, the land trust organized a fundraising campaign to raise $3.5 million to bolster the Land and Water Conservation Fund application — which asked for $8.5 million in funding. 

The White River National Forest’s request for funding to permanently protect Sweetwater Lake was granted in November 2020. The fund has distributed $272 million for recreation and conservation projects in Colorado over the last 50 years. 

“The conservation of Sweetwater Lake is the realization of a community vision decades in the making,” Jessica Foulis, executive director of Eagle Valley Land Trust, said in a statement. “The partners, donors and advocates who made this acquisition possible have created a legacy that will benefit all the residents and guests of Eagle and Garfield counties for generations to come.” 

Olivia Prentzel is a general assignment writer based in Colorado Springs for The Colorado Sun, covering breaking news, wildfires and all things interesting impacting Coloradans. Before joining The Sun, Olivia covered criminal justice for The...