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Family in a rowboat on Sweetwater Lake in Garfield County.

A scenic lake in western Colorado is poised to become the public destination admirers have long envisioned.

That's after the announcement of Sweetwater Lake entering the U.S. Forest Service portfolio.

A recent press release promised wildlife protection and new recreation access to the 488 acres in a remote pocket between Garfield and Eagle counties, backdropped by Flat Tops Wilderness. Previously, the shores had been privately held and feared to be in the crosshairs of development.

"Save the Lake" was the fundraising campaign waged by Eagle Valley Land Trust. Last year, in partnership with The Conservation Fund, the lake was saved to the tune of $7.1 million.

Now, thanks to millions of more dollars from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Sweetwater Lake has been transferred to White River National Forest. After decades-long shortages, Congress's move to fully restore that fund last summer was seen as critical for federal land managers to take control of the lake.

In the press release, U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper praised the fund for preserving what he called "one of the largest and most pristine natural bodies of water in the Centennial State."

The lake has been frequented by trespassing boaters, anglers, swimmers, hikers and campers in the past. It "has been cherished in this region for decades," said White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. "We are thrilled to expand public access to this area."

The release noted the area is "largely open to the public." The Forest Service is expected to launch a management plan to inform future recreation and conservation.

Contact the writer: seth.boster@gazette.com