Trail of the week: Yampa River Preserve (with video)
HAYDEN — Whenever I drove by the pump station near Hayden and saw cars across the street, I just figured it was an overflow lot. Finally, one day I pulled my car into the gravel lot just east of the Yampa Valley Regional Airport and discovered it was not just a lot.
On the gate near the river was a sign: Yampa River Preserve — The Nature Conservancy. So, I had a new trail to explore.
On a somewhat smoky morning, I made my way to the trail. A sign on the other side of the gate indicates the rules of the area. Foot traffic only, no pets, fishing is allowed. The preserve is only open from sunrise to sunset, so no overnight activities are permitted. Stay on existing trails, carry out all trash and don’t remove any specimens from the area.
The path starts wide, like a jeep trail, but gets narrower in spots. Eventually, it splits off, indicated by a small sign. The trail that splits off is a mowed section that goes to the river and then reconnects to the main trail farther down.
Before the split there is a sign with information about the preserve and the Nature Conservancy.
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The main trail follows a runoff ditch, known as Marshall Roberts Ditch according to Google Maps.
A lot of Colorado is crispy right now, but the abundance of water along the Yampa River Preserve has kept plants green.
Grasshoppers make way as I walk. When I was little, that used to make me feel like I was a princess and a crowd was parting to allow me to pass through. I snap out of the flashback when one of the grasshoppers smacks me in the cheek.
The preserve has the feel of being farther away from society than you are. It’s quiet despite being close to the main highway, and small critters rustle in the shrubbery on either side of the trail.
One rustle was much louder than the rest. I look to my right to see a beaver slide off the bank and into the ditch. The buck-toothed engineer paddled gracefully through the water, passing me in peace. If I had a tail of the week column, that beaver would be the subject. It was awesome to see one so close and see his massive tail.
Suddenly, it was clear. There was beaver evidence everywhere. Broken branches were actually chewed branches. Every once in a while there would be a patted-down patch of shrubs where the beaver presumably made his way down the bank and into the water.
The trail ends at the river, a little less than a mile upstream from the trailhead. There is a small stone dam and easy access to the water.
I didn’t see the beaver on the way back, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout when I return.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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