Cheryl Cwelich joins the UGRWCD staff as the Watershed Program Coordinator, which involves leading all aspects of the collaborative Wet Meadow Restoration-Resilience Project, as well as providing technical and managerial assistance on a variety of environmental, recreational, agricultural, and municipal water projects for the District..
By Cheryl Cwelich
Bubbling. Trickling. Flowing. Water has been a draw on me since I was a wee thing. If I wasn’t creating waterfalls and ponds to my father’s chagrin in the backyard, then I was flustering my mother by splashing around and catching crawdads down at the “creek park.” Plus, there were the sunny (and rainy) days boating with my family on Lake Dillion and Cherry Creek Reservoir, falling out of a rafts on the Arkansas River, and being fascinated by ditches and pipes moving water around the local community farm. I was always playing with water.
During a stint as a seasonal park ranger at the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, I was introduced to water management, both on the job and during their 20-year management planning effort. I was hooked. Transmountain water diversions, recreational flows, in-stream flows, fish habitat, carrying capacity, buy-and-dry and more. It was a revelation and I wanted – I needed – to know more. After perusing various schools, I chose Western Colorado University as the best comprehensive education to help me finish a degree in Environment & Sustainability with a focus on Water Policy & Resilience and a minor in Recreation & Outdoor Education. It was a great choice. Small classrooms, engaging professors, a lively community, and water resource conflicts kept me happily on-the-go. Plus, I got to live in Gunnison, where long ago, I learned to fish with my grandfather at the town pond.
While finishing school, I was intent on getting a water job to gain experience. My first summer, I worked as a reservationist with Scenic River Tours while healing from a knee injury. That fall, I walked into the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and they let me work as an intern, which included assisting with the Wet Meadow Restoration and Resiliency Building Project and helping with NRCS snow surveys. The last three years, I worked at the Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT) as a river steward, educating river users on boating etiquette, respecting wildlife and private property, and conducting annual river recreation use studies. I finished my time at the CBLT as a stewardship and operations specialist overseeing various stewardship projects, including updating infrastructure on the historic Rozich ditch, mitigating beaver conflicts and launching a community farm project with partners. Today, I put days in ski patrolling up at Monarch Mountain to keep my eye on water storage, and ski the fluffy stuff.
The Gunnison valley is so special to me. It is a place of nostalgia, adventure and perseverance. I couldn’t be more ecstatic and honored to work for this community and her waters. The Wet Meadow Restoration and Resiliency Building Project is an incredible effort of numerous public and private stakeholders to protect her wildlife and “re-wet the sponge.” I am in humble awe of the hard work and planning that came before by numerous dedicated people in the BLM, USFS, CPW, CNHP, UGRWCD, and many, many more. It is a great joy to join the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District to serve and protect what I like to call the water towers of the west. Then I can keep playing in the water, skiing on frozen water, boating on whitewater, drinking clean water and protecting rural water.