Water Sports on the Cache la Poudre River

While people have used the Cache la Poudre River for fishing, swimming, picnicking, and other leisure activities for more than 150 years, water sport recreation and participation have been on the rise in and around Fort Collins since the 1940s, following the post-war rise in suburban development in the area. The population shifted from agricultural to increasingly urban during the second half of the twentieth century, and new urban residents sought out opportunities to enjoy less developed environments, which led them to the Cache la Poudre River running through the center of the city. Fishing , wading, tubing, boating, and swimming in the river were common activities for local residents. Additionally, the river appealed to visitors, and tourism became increasingly important to Fort Collins. Rafting and camping grew increasingly popular. Today, while some of these activities are done further up the river in the Poudre Canyon outside of Fort Collins itself, many of the businesses who manage recreation on the Cache la Poudre River are based in Fort Collins, which aids the local economy.1

The City of Fort Collins and Larimer County, aware of the economic and social value of promoting activities on the river, have also added opportunities for recreation. Larimer County stated in 1992 that its mission was “provid[ing] high quality outdoor recreational opportunities for present and future residents.” They emphasized that the county would achieve this through diversifying water sports. When residents in both Larimer and Weld counties succeeded in designating a portion of the Cache la Poudre River from Roosevelt National Forest through Greeley as a National Water Heritage Area in 1996, they planned for recreation along the river as well. Fort Collins, Windsor, and Greeley have built trails for biking, walking, and running beside the river for this purpose. Many people fish from them or use them to gain access to the Cache la Poudre River’s banks, as well. 2.]

Recreation in and along the Cache la Poudre River has brought together people dedicated to preserving the river in its natural form and providing safe and clean water in which to recreate, but it has also caused conflict with other people who use the river’s water. People invested in water sports, whether enjoying them or managing them, have an interest in maintaining minimum streamflows and a healthy river so their boats can run and fish can thrive. In 1986, these recreational interests added fuel to a successful push to designate 75 miles of the Cache la Poudre River in the Poudre Canyon as a Wild and Scenic River. Much of the rafting and kayaking done on the river happens on this stretch, which is protected from development. The push to prohibit development on the upper portion of the river and maintain streamflows did bring urban recreational users and environmentalists into conflict with agricultural user and municipal water providers tasked with supplying a growing urban population, though. Some in the recreation and environmental protection camp failed to recognize that the Cache la Poudre River was historically a “working river” or that farmers did care about conserving water. Others did, but lobbied against the river’s over-appropriation and the large quantities of pollutants from fertilizers and pesticides that contaminated river return flows. Because recreation and agriculture are both economically important to Fort Collins and Larimer County, these conflicts between different users continue to arise.3

  1. This information has been condensed by Jaci Wells from a research paper titled, “An Identity Created from A River: A History of Water Sports on The Poudre River,” by Katie Updyke.
  2. Siri Stevens, untitled clipping, The Fort Collins Triangle Review, December 17, 1992, LC- Recreation- Miscellaneous file, Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, Fort Collins, CO.; Jean Helburg, “An Anecdotal History of the Parks and Recreation Department: Fort Collins, CO,” The City of Fort Collins (2009), 40-75, http://www.fcgov.com/recreation/pdf/anecdotal_history.pdf, [Accessed 25 April 2014
  3. Rose Laflin, Irrigation, Settlement, and Change on the Cache La Poudre River (Fort Collins: Colorado Water Resources Research Institute, 2005), 84-87.

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