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Paonia River Park is busy this summer

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Photo submitted Youth Conservation Corps leader Paul Kimpling cuts tree branches to keep the trail to Minnesota Creek clear.

As one of the few public access points to the North Fork of the Gunnison River, the Paonia River Park is a popular place for North Fork Valley residents to escape the summer heat in the cool water and relax with friends and family.

The River Park is managed by the Western Slope Conservation Center (the Conservation Center). The Conservation Center coordinated the river restoration efforts in 2013 to help the riparian area -- the area around the river -- recover from years of in-stream gravel mining, and it has continued to develop the River Park into a safe and welcoming community space.

The River Park was busy with activity Wednesday, July 22, when 11 volunteers came together to mow the parking lot area, restore a damaged sign and clean up the vegetation along the trail to Minnesota Creek.

"It was a very productive morning," said Julia Bowman, Paonia River Park coordinator. "We depend on volunteers and park users to keep the River Park clean and well-managed. Wednesday was just a great example of people coming together to take care of a place they care about."

The Conservation Center volunteers were joined by the Youth Conservation Corps, led by Paul Kimpling of the U.S. Forest Service, Paonia Ranger District. Usually, the Youth Conservation Corps works in the backcountry, planting trees, reestablishing trail, and performing heavy brushing but was excited to partner with the Conservation Center on a project so close to Paonia.

"It was great to lend some extra muscle to this project and give the kids a chance to contribute new skills they have been fostering all summer," Kimpling said. "Partnerships are valuable; it is not only important for them to see that, but to engage our youth in other land stewardship projects which serve our local community."

While the Conservation Center primarily advocates for responsible stewardship of public lands and water resources, the River Park has continued to be an important project.

"We know the River Park is special to so many people, and we value our ability to provide river access to the community. Everyone should be able to explore the natural resources in their proverbial backyards," said Bowman.

This summer, the Conservation Center is installing an ADA-compliant ramp, built by Ira Houseweart, down to the river and is improving the trail to Minnesota Creek at the end of the season.The Conservation Center also recently received a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado to install educational signs at the River Park, a project that will be guided by a community action group.

Other events at the River Park include a biological surveying event, called a BioBlitz, on Aug. 7 and 8 that is free and open to the public.

Photo submitted Youth Conservation Corps member Kassidy Rapke and Conservation Center board member Ralph D’Alessandro install a repaired sign at the Paonia River Park.
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