"Crawford plans biggest day in town's history," the April 4, 1963, edition of the Delta County Independent proclaimed.
The subject of the page 1 story was the dedication of the Crawford Dam and the town's new post office — an occasion just as worthy of recognition 50-plus years later.
While the Sept. 15 anniversary celebration didn't draw quite as many dignitaries as the dedication ceremony in 1963, it was still a festive occasion highlighting two cornerstones of the community. Crawford Mayor Susie Steckel provided the impetus for the anniversary celebration; Danny Cotten and Marlyse Cunningham provided historic photos and documents.
Although Crawford State Park is known as a popular camping, boating, fishing and picnicking destination, its primary purpose has been — and continues to be — providing irrigation water for Crawford area farmers and ranchers, particularly to address late season water shortages. Allocation is managed by the Crawford Water Conservancy District, which is governed by a board of directors comprised of seven local landowners.
So the history of the dam can really be approached from two directions — the story of the state park, as outlined by retired park manager Larry Kontour, and the history of the Smith Fork Project, as explained by John Cunningham of the Crawford Water Conservation District and Ed Warner of the Bureau of Reclamation. A written history of the Smith Fork Project was also compiled by the Bureau of Reclamation's Thomas Latousek.
Latousek explains projects such as Crawford Reservoir were able to "ride the coattails" of the big "star" projects of post-war western water development — the huge, revenue-producing dams like Glen Canyon and Flaming Gorge. High altitude farmers never could have paid for their local projects without sharing in the Upper Colorado River Storage Project receipts, he noted.
The Crawford Reservoir stores and regulates the flows of the Smith Fork of the Gunnison River, as well as Iron Creek and other small tributaries and private irrigation ditches from which users draw their supply. The remainder of the water is released to the 5.8-mile Aspen Canal for delivery to additional private ditches. A negligible amount of water goes to the Town of Crawford for drinking water.
While the reservoir is two miles south of Crawford, most project farms lie north of town. The water is used primarily to grow winter feed for cattle (alfalfa, hay, corn and barley), as well as provide pasturage for livestock. Without supplemental water, ranchers were limited in the number of livestock they could maintain. Project proponents like Leslie J. Savage, a Crawford rancher, pointed out supplemental, regulated irrigation could allow for up to three cuttings per season, as well as open up new land for farming.
As discussion of the project began, two possible sites on the Smith Fork were rejected as unsuitable. "At that point the project might have been forgotten except for the determination of a couple of Crawford people, most notably Leslie J.," BuRec's Ed Warner said. The final design involved construction of a feeder canal to convey a portion of the Smith Fork's flow into the reservoir.
According to Latousek, bids were opened in 1960 for what was to become a $4.43 million project. The construction engineer and contractor assigned to the as-yet unfinished Paonia Project were awarded construction of the Crawford Dam. As work was finished at Paonia, equipment and personnel moved to Crawford and construction began in October 1960.
When finished, the dam was 140 feet high and 720 feet long. It impounds approximately 14,000 acre-feet of water.
At the dedication ceremony in 1963, Latousak says chilled water-skiers demonstrated their skills on the half-filled reservoir and the local high school band blared away. Savage was honored as "Father of the Smith Fork Project" while Wayne Aspinall, the "Father of the CSRP" looked on proudly.
During the anniversary celebration, county administrator Robbie LeValley observed how many descendants of project proponents are still working the land and providing for the economic benefit of the county, a sentiment echoed by John Cunningham.
"This project has allowed some of the descendants of those early ranchers to continue the legacy of farming and ranching today," he said.
Crawford State Park
The April 20, 1963, edition of the DCI notes, "Crawford Lake has been planted with trout and is open for fishing this year. The boat ramp into the lake is completed and will reach into the water this spring as the melting snows fill the lake. Excellent fishing is anticipated."
In 1964, Larry Kontour reported, Colorado State Parks took over the Paonia, Crawford and Navajo reservoirs. The state agency had no money and not a lot of equipment, so amenities were limited to vault toilets, 30 campsites and one boat ramp.
In 1982, perch from Gould Reservoir migrated into Crawford Reservoir and the "whole fishing structure changed."
Built to accommodate about 30,000 visitors a year, the park grew increasingly more popular. In 1981, Kontour said, the park saw about 76,000 visitors, many with motor homes larger than the campground could accommodate. In 1990, visitation exceeded 89,000. In 2012, the park had 106,482 visitors.
Kontour was park manager from 1984 to 2003, and considers the swim beach one of his biggest accomplishments. Funding wasn't any more plentiful than when the park first opened, but he was able to successfully petition the county for Great Outdoors Colorado funds to build a safe swim area. In 1995, a project was launched to upgrade water and sewer to the park, which paved the way for extensive campground renovations. Now campers could "rough it" with electricity and running water.
Park manager Ed Keleher, who is now in his fourth year at Crawford, talked about upcoming projects, including campground redevelopment and several miles of trail work to enhance work done by Friends of Crawford State Park.
Crawford Post Office
Extensive information is available on construction of the dam, but less is known about the Crawford Post Office, which is housed in a building currently owned by the Clark family.
According to the Delta County Independent, the new post office building opened for business Dec. 17, 1962, and was dedicated April 20, 1963, with postmaster Will VanEngen organizing the dedication ceremony. Mike Osborne, the current postmaster, represented the postal service at the 50th anniversary celebration.blog comments powered by Disqus