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Family in a rowboat on Sweetwater Lake in Garfield County. Photo credit Todd Winslow Pierce

A popular, scenic lake in Colorado is on track to be forever protected.

Worry has long hovered around Sweetwater Lake in Garfield County, which has been frequented by boaters, anglers, campers and hikers despite surrounding land being largely private. Investors have had ideas for hotels and housing, all while the Eagle Valley Land Trust has waged its "Save the Lake" campaign, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Conservation "has been a local pipe dream for decades," the trust's Jessica Foulis said in a release celebrating news at the start of this month.

In a multi-organizational effort led by The Conservation Fund, 488 acres of the lake framed by Flat Tops Wilderness have been acquired for $7.1 million. Now the goal is to transfer the land to the U.S. Forest Service.

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That could be possible with Congress fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Last month the Senate approved restoring the LWCF's $900 million for the first time in more than 50 years. Pending the next legislative stages, Sweetwater Lake is poised to be an early beneficiary of the historic measure.

The Forest Service listed the lake in its top 10 acquisition priorities nationwide for 2021. The agency has proposed a management plan for Sweetwater — possible, it says, with $8.5 million from the LWCF.

The lake "would be a fantastic addition," White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said in a news release.

The lake is considered a "critical component" to the local economy and critical, too, for wildlife. Bald eagles, osprey, elk, deer and rainbow trout are among the area residents.

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