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A Summer’s Morning At Barr Lake…

July 29, 2020

Swallows at Barr Lake, Adams County, Colorado. July 28=9, 2020

I went out to Barr Lake this morning.

Needed to clear my head from spending two days in front of computer screen, preparing for our (Ibrahim Kazerooni and my) KGNU program last night on the possible war between Egypt and Turkey in Libya. Also needed to get out of the city to a place where there wouldn’t be too many people and where most of them would be wearing masks.

Barr Lake State Park was the right place.

Haven’t been there since February when I went to look for eagles… and there were dozens of them. From the look out post on the west side of the lake they were easy to spot although because of the distance involved it was hard to get a good shot. Still, to see so many eagles congregating in one place is something of a thrill, particular for a boy born in Brooklyn.

They’re gone now but in their place is a colony of American pelicans. A lot of them. Can’t give a precise number but would guess it’s somewhere in the hundreds, maybe more. They congregate in large groups – 20, 30 sometimes more. There were other birds too; I saw goldfinches, a house wren, several Western kingbirds, a grayish hummingbird I was unable to photograph, the pervasive great blue heron, and in a ditch, looking for a non-existent way out, either a giant catfish or carp. Not sure which.

Returning to the car I walked a spell with a nice woman, also a birder, who is a retired nurse from the University of Colorado Medical Center. We were both wearing the obligatory Coronavirus masks. Her son has climbed eight fourteeners and whose daughter is about to go off to Wellesley College, from whence Madelaine Albright and Hillary Clinton graduated. The daughter’s hero is Madelaine Albright. I liked this woman with a “Resist” sticker on the rear of her car, so I didn’t mention how Albright had said that it was worth killing half a million Iraqi children to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Nor did I want to discourage the daughter about the shrinking opportunities of getting any kind of paying job with a degree in international relations.

Never have done the full tour of the lake which spans 8.8 miles. Think I did around 4 miles – two out and two back, dropping in to explore the little side trails that brought me closer to the lake and its festival of birds this time of year. The park is popular with birders; over 350 species have been observed. Named after a railroad official, one “Mr. Barr,” it was, prior to Euro-American settlement a buffalo wallow, a natural low area that collected water during the rainy season. It was also a stop on the Goodnight-Loving Trail cattledrive from Texas to the railhead in Cheyenne Wyoming.

As the Friends of Barr Lake blog tells it:

In 1886, A small dam was built at the north end of the buffalo wallow forming the Oasis Reservoir.  The Burlington Canal was built to bring water from the South Platte River to site, then called the Oasis Reservoir. Shortly thereafter, the place turned ugly. Due to the rapid population growth of Denver post WW II raw sewage from the overflow of the Denver sewage treatment plan, slaughter houses, and packing plants along the banks of the South Platte River flowed into the South Platte River and ultimately into Barr Lake.  Barr Lake became known as the largest open sewage lagoon in the nation,

A powerful thunderstorm over the headwaters of the South Platte River swelled the waters of the river and adjacent canals and brought the possibility of renewal.  To protect the dam at Barr Lake the valves north of the dam were opened and the polluted water was drained from Barr Lake.  After repairs to the head gate on the South Platte River, canals, and dam fresh water flowed into Barr Lake.  The clean water afforded Barr Lake a chance of renewal. New water quality laws and construction of the new sewage treatment plant down stream from the Burlington Canal head gate improved the quality of the South Platte River water and the water in Barr Lake.

In the early 1970s the state of Colorado bought the property for $2 million and began renovations. Barr Lake State Park was opened to the public in 1977.

Pelicans at Barr Lake State Park. Adams County, Colorado. July 29, 2020

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Barbara Millman permalink
    July 29, 2020 8:19 pm

    Thanks, pleasant story.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. William Conklin permalink
    July 30, 2020 7:56 am

    Barr lake is beautiful. When I was a kid it was a huge smelly cesspool. So far this summer I have ridden around it on my bicycle and kayaked in it. It’s a very nice place to watch birds and to watch the carp jumping in the water

    • July 30, 2020 1:47 pm

      Saw a carp in the canal… he was wedged in, in a space that still had water between two dry areas. Watched min for a while catching insects.. Big one (the carp)

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