Colorado’s Crystal River deserves “Wild and Scenic” protections

Crystal River is one of Colorado’s few undisturbed rivers, and protecting it is critical for the environment and local communities

Crystal River at Redstone, CO

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Whether you love fly fishing, kayaking, or exploring untouched nature, the Crystal River in western Colorado is a great spot to visit.

The Crystal River, which flows into the Roaring Fork after passing through Gunnison and Pitkin counties, provides clean drinking water to 7,000 people, and supports ranching and agriculture in the area. The river and its banks house diverse wildlife, including rare orchids such as the fairy slipper, Bald Eagles, bighorn sheep and several species of trout. Fly fishers benefit from the wide variety of insects in the area to catch plentiful trout.

Roaring Fork Colorado basin mapPhoto by Shannon1 | CC-BY-SA-4.0

The lower section of the Crystal River, which is considered heavily modified and degraded, has a much lower trout population compared to similar rivers in the area. This is a clear indicator that stronger protection for the rest of the river is critical in protecting the trout population of the Crystal River.

Why do the people surrounding Crystal River want a Wild and Scenic designation, and what does that mean? The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968 to ensure rivers with outstanding beauty and cultural value would be protected. In Colorado, the Cache la Poudre River has had a Wild and Scenic management plan since 1990 which has protected its free-flowing status and maintained clean water for recreation and wildlife. And now, due to the Crystal River’s wild and undisturbed natural beauty, the U.S. Forest Service has deemed it eligible for Wild and Scenic River status as well. Such a status would ensure the river will remain free flowing and undiverted.

After the designation is granted, local, state and federal agencies would form a council to develop a management plan that the community would implement. The council would also be open to any members of the public to share their ideas and opinions.

With the goal of protecting Crystal River at the forefront, Gunnison County, Pitkin County, the Town of Marble, and the River District joined together and created a collaborative that has hosted monthly meetings and a community summit to incorporate voices from all over the area. This strategy encourages informed decision making by the public, and such a strong effort makes the future of Crystal River look bright.


Ellen Montgomery

Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America

Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.

Hannah Jaffe

Environment Colorado Intern

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