by Edie Flanagin
HUERFANO– Wildlife viewing, specifically bird watching, in Colorado is a $1 billion a year enterprise, more than hunting and fishing combined. This fact was presented last Wednesday at the Agritourism workshop in Walsenburg by John Koshak, wildlife coordinator for Colorado Division of Wildlife. Koshak was instrumental in establishing the Colorado Birding Trail. Our area is part of the “Spanish Peaks” trail which runs from Walsenburg eastward about 50 miles along Hwy 10, southward to Trinidad and then west along the Hwy 12, the “Highway of Legends“.
There are 21 viewing sites along the Spanish Peaks trail, about half of them on private land. The landowners who allow birders onto their land can charge a “per head” entrance fee (usually $10.00 – $15.00) as well as obtain grants to enhance wildlife habitat on their lands. Grady Grissom, a presenter at the Agritourism workshop and manager of Rancho Largo Cattle Company in Eastern Huerfano County, told of his experience with improving wildlife habitat on his ranch. Mr. Grissom worked over the last couple of years with Colorado DOW and Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory to restore a playa lake on Rancho Largo. A playa is a seasonal prairie lake which provides excellent wetland areas for migrating birds and other wildlife. The grant from RMBO and DOW allowed the ranch to install a 20,000 gallon water tank to replace stock tank storage lost when the playa was rebuilt. The playa lake is now restored to its original proportions and is already attracting migratory birds such as Sand Hill cranes and Long Bill Curlews. As Mr. Grissom showed with his presentation, a playa lake, properly managed, makes very good, high intensity winter pasturage as well as great wildlife habitat.
When birders come to an area they spend their money on travel, lodging, food, and equipment; a boon to the whole community. Information on the Spanish Peaks birding trail and other birding trails in southeastern Colorado can be obtained at Lathrop State Park, the visitor center at the Depot in Walsenburg, or on-line at www.coloradobirdingtrail.com.