After more than 30 years of digging with a backhoe in the morning and enforcing the law in the afternoon, Scot Elder is ready to go float fishing.
Monday was Elder’s last day on the job after 20 years of managing Lone Mesa and Mancos State Parks. Elder spent more than 30 years working for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Elder, 51, considers it more of “a change of seasons” than retirement.
Mancos State Park has seen significant growth in visitation in the past several years. According to Elder, the park has nearly 50,000 visitor days per year, the bulk of which come between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
That number has doubled over the past 11 years. Many visitors camp at the park and use it as a base to visit Mesa Verde National Park.
The park is primarily known for camping, hiking and fishing, with many anglers drawn to the populations of rainbow trout and yellow perch in the Jackson Gulch Reservoir, which was commissioned in 1948 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. It became a state park in 1987.
The coronavirus might also have been a driver of increased visitation last year. According to Elder, twice as my many people visited last year as they did two years ago.
Elder admits that while the water level for the reservoir has been low this year, it is not unprecedented.
“It is low, but that’s the purpose of this water storage is to provide for those needs,” Elder said. “We had a winter that didn’t provide snowpack. So it’s low, and it’s going to stay low through the summer. But I’m sure it’ll be managed to come back up. It’s going to be a dry year. We’ve managed through it before. We’ll manage through it again.”
Elder is most proud of the hunting program he instituted at Lone Mesa and the new facilities recently built for the Mancos visiting center.
The hunting program limited the density of hunters by managing a special drawing for access to the property. The land, which was formerly three private ranches, was known for being excellent deer and elk habitat.
“It’s an out-of-the-hat community drawing that provides a really high-quality hunting experience,” Elder said. “I literally have had pregnant moms show up to hunt that park property and then watch that child become a hunter.”
The new, more spacious visitation center that opened this week has a garage-style door that opens up to a view of the reservoir.
The previous welcoming center was roughly the size of a single-stall restroom, which Elder admits complicated his job during the pandemic.
“We recognized the need for a good central visitor center, a point of connection to the people using these parks,” Elder said. “To have this realized dream, it’s perfect timing for me to sort of pass that on to the next management of this facility.”
A boat inspection area was also built adjacent to the visitor center, and updated shop facilities will soon be operational.
Administrative duties that used to be handled at a leased office space in Dolores are now taken care of at the park itself.
The recent additions to the park were funded by CPW’s cut of state lottery profits.
“Just being a part of connecting people to the outdoors has really been the gratification of this career,” Elder said.
Elder worked for CPW at Boyd Lake State Park before coming to the region and getting the manager job in Mancos.
“Man, that time has flown,” Elder said. “Those 20 years, it’s just been amazing how quickly that has gone and how many changes I’ve seen in this community.”
Elder plans on doing three months of float fishing with his newfound time, starting at The Rio Grande.
He also intends to spend time with his family. Elder has three daughters, all of whom graduated from Dolores High School.
But Elder still plans on being a frequent volunteer in the area.
“I don’t see myself getting too far away from this mission,” Elder said.
The manager position is the park’s only full-time job. Much of the park’s functioning is reliant on seasonal workers.
Southwest Region Trails Coordinator Josh Stoudt is the acting park manager until a new hire is made.
Heath Kehm, deputy manager for CPW’s Southwest Region, told The Journal that a permanent hire for the job will likely be made in middle or late June.