30 Great Places: Hermosa Creek

Region: Southern Rockies
Activities: Mountain biking; Skiing; 4WD; Fishing; Hunting, camping
Species: Colorado River cutthroat trout; elk

Where: The Hermosa Creek Watershed comprises 107,886 acres in La Plata and San Juan Counties, in southwestern Colorado. The area, just north of the town of Durango, is in public hands, managed as a combination of wilderness, roadless and special management areas.

Why: Incredible recreational opportunities, whatever outdoor pursuits you enjoy. “Those of us in Durango think of Hermosa Creek as our backyard playground, our local treasure,” said
Ty Churchwell, Trout Unlimited San Juan Mountains Coordinator. “Nine miles from town you can be fishing. Go just a little further and you’ll find some of the most remote backcountry in the region.”

Hermosa Creek has a downhill ski area (Purgatory), great elk hunting, one of Colorado’s most renowned mountain biking trails (the eponymous 18.6-mile Hermosa Creek Trail), jeep and dirt bike tracks, and the Southwest’s largest Colorado River Cutthroat Trout reintroduction program.

The Fishing: Colorado Parks and Wildlife has been working on reintroducing Colorado River cutts here for 20 years.

“They’re not influenced by other trout species in the top one-third of the river, as non-natives have been removed and there are fish migration barriers,” said Churchwell. “If you’re looking to bag a true native Colorado River cutthroat, this is the first place anglers would tell you to go.”

In general, Hermosa Creek watershed trout are not picky.

“They have four months to feed, and they eat like pigs.”

Local Knowledge: Get set up in Hermosa Creek, and then recreate!

“I like to get up there and set up a base camp,” Churchwell said. “Once you’re established, every activity is available from your camping spot—whether you’re a jeeper who’s car camping or a backpacker in the wilderness. You could hike up to some alpine meadows to see wildflowers in the morning and pedal down a mountain bike trail in the afternoon for some fishing.”

TU Initiatives: With Trout Unlimited’s help, the community in Durango rallied around the notion of preserving the Hermosa Creek Watershed as a multi-use area. This led to the crafting and, ultimately, the passage of the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act of 2013.

“The bill passed, in part, because we honored all existing historic uses and had consensus support from all user groups,” Churchwell said. “It’s a perfect example of a public land area that anyone can enjoy. As far as we know, it’s the only public land initiative that protects an entire watershed as an intact ecological unit.”

Make a Difference: A dollar spent on conservation is a dollar spent for the benefit of future generations. And with recent budget proposals, those dollars and the programs they support are in jeopardy, including public lands like the Hermosa Creek Watershed. Visit Standup.tu.org to send a message to Congress that you support funding for public land management agencies like the United States Forest Service.

By Shauna Stephenson.