Recreation coming to Rueter-Hess Reservoir

Public access to Rueter-Hess will follow master-plan process

Posted 7/21/15

The long wait for public access to Rueter-Hess Reservoir is almost over.

It was more than 10 years ago that Parker Water and Sanitation District customers overwhelmingly approved a $100 million bond issue to fund the construction of the reservoir …

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Recreation coming to Rueter-Hess Reservoir

Public access to Rueter-Hess will follow master-plan process

Posted

The long wait for public access to Rueter-Hess Reservoir is almost over.

It was more than 10 years ago that Parker Water and Sanitation District customers overwhelmingly approved a $100 million bond issue to fund the construction of the reservoir on Parker’s western edge.

An original plan to build a reservoir with the capacity for 16,000 acre-feet of water was expanded to 75,000 acre-feet when the water district found local partners in 2008. Ron Redd, district manager for Parker Water, said a recent analysis revealed that the excavation of dirt and rock to build the dam added another 3,000 acre-feet of storage space.

The opening of the Hess Road connection to I-25 allowed more residents to see for the first time a growing body of water that was once referred to as a puddle, and before that as an expensive hole in the ground.

Shortly after decision makers began discussing the need to capture and store water from wet years for use in dry years — instead of allowing that water to go downstream — they also talked about possible recreation at Rueter-Hess Reservoir. Those discussions became a lot more serious in 2015, and words will soon turn into purposeful actions.

Partnering up

The first sign that recreation was coming to Rueter-Hess came in the form of, well, a sign. Earlier this year, the water district hung a placard on a locked access gate to the reservoir near Hess Road and Newlin Gulch Boulevard. It simply said: “Interested in Rueter-Hess Recreation? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.”

The Parker Water and Sanitation District will partner with the Town of Parker, Castle Rock, Douglas County, Castle Pines and Lone Tree to provide recreational opportunities to the public. Roughly half of the entities have already approved an intergovernmental agreement to form an authority that will oversee recreation at the reservoir.

“Every one of these communities has experts in parks and recreation, and part of my job is to realize what we’re not good at,” Redd said. “We’re good at water and wastewater. We don’t have any experience in recreation.”

Jim Cleveland, director of Parker’s parks and rec department, said he is thrilled at the chance to be involved. He said the partners share a vision for what the reservoir could be.

“It’s not often you get to add a recreational jewel like this in your backyard,” he said. “We’re making it happen as quickly as possible.”

The partners set aside $25,000 each in their 2015 budgets for a master-plan study to be conducted by Wenk Associates, the firm that helped design the Salisbury Park North expansion in Parker. The goal was to have the intergovernmental agreement approved by the end of June, but the board of county commissioners will consider approval in early August and be the final partner to sign.

From then, it will take 9-12 months to solicit public input, revise the master plan based on the feedback, craft a business plan to determine funding, and develop a three-phase implementation strategy. It’s possible that if Parker voters approve a parks and rec tax increase in November, the town will use some of that money to contribute to recreation at Rueter-Hess, Cleveland said.

What to expect

On June 30, Parker Water’s director of business operations, Susan Saint Vincent, addressed a small gathering of dignitaries taking a tour of the reservoir. She spoke from an overlook that provides a birds-eye view of the glassy reservoir from the south. To describe what the future might look like at Rueter-Hess, Saint Vincent used words like “quiet,” “calm,” “tranquil” and “serene.”

Runners, hikers, canoeists and anglers will be the happiest, while those with speedboats, ATVs and jet skis might be disappointed. Because the reservoir is mainly intended for drinking water, motorized boating and swimming will not be allowed. Parker Water’s board of directors, while accepting new ideas, will set those limitations before the master-plan process begins.

“They basically said they want this to be a tranquil reservoir. This is the hiking trails, the canoeing, the fishing, punctuated with triathlons or community events because they help bring in money to pay for this,” Redd said.

Parker Water is tentatively planning on park settings with gazebos and picnic areas, and there is a strong possibility that overnight camping will be allowed at some point on the south end of the reservoir. There will be a hard- and soft-surface trail network totaling approximately 17 miles. The reservoir also could be the future site of fireworks displays.

L.L. Bean, a sporting goods outfitter that opened in Park Meadows mall last year, has approached Parker Water about providing canoes and paddleboats for rent to avoid the introduction of damaging mussels from other reservoirs and preclude the need for inspections. Such public-private partnerships will be helpful financially, Redd said. Ultimately, the master plan will determine types of uses as well as funding sources.

“The key thing will be: How do we pay for this?” Redd said.

A change in leadership at Parker Water put the plan on a faster track. A recreation enterprise was created when Frank Jaeger, the mastermind behind Rueter-Hess, was still district manager, but he indicated in the mid-2000s that recreation would be a low priority and wouldn’t happen for another two decades.

A rising tide

As of July 20, the reservoir contained 21,100 acre-feet, which would serve Parker’s existing population for nearly four years.

In mid-May, Redd showed off a diversion structure on Cherry Creek that was working overtime during a particularly wet spell in May and early June. Because Cherry Creek has been a “free river” for much of the year — meaning there are few limits to the amount of water that can be taken off — Parker Water and Sanitation was redirecting 130 acre-feet of water to Rueter-Hess Reservoir every day, with its pumps running at full power. In one four-week period, the water level at Rueter-Hess rose an astounding 3.7 feet; it has averaged about one foot per month.

Only a handful of public officials — including Parker Town Council and the Douglas County commissioners — along with members of the Audubon Society, have gotten to tour the reservoir.

The commissioners were surprised by the stunning views, abundance of wildlife and amount of water in Rueter-Hess during a June 30 tour. They glued a commemorative coin to a rock that will slowly be inundated, and presumably, be there hundreds of years from now.

The commissioners also observed a water line marker near the dam that showed the reservoir’s depth at 95 feet, which is roughly halfway to the top.

The vision, goals and implementation timeline contained in the master plan will be available for the public to see in mid- to late-2016.

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To read about the burial grounds and evidence of prior civilizations found during the reservoir's construction, click here.

To read about the fish-stocking program that began in June, click here.

To read about the Town of Parker's attempt to annex the reservoir, click here.

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