“A change is coming for John Martin Reservoir,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife Officer Kevin Mahan, May 14 at the La Junta Senior Center. “People drove everywhere and made their own roads.

"There are three reasons we have to change: One, the property is a state wildlife area; two, concerns over threatened/endangered species, and three, concerns over cultural sites.”

Corps of Engineers Project Manager Jonathan Tague said, “John Martin Reservoir was finished in 1948 by the Corps of Engineers. It is important to remember that every drop of water in the Arkansas River and in the reservoir is owned by somebody, and they are watching it. The Bureau of Land Management was the only other management for the reservoir until 1968, when the Corps and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife became management partners.”

The CPW manages the 19,471-acre state wildlife area (SWA) for the Corps, the agency said in a prepared statement. The SWA surrounds the reservoir west of the state park. It’s a popular destination for hunting, fishing, boating, camping and wildlife viewing.

CPW has been working with the Corps on a new operating agreement at the SWA after its old license expired in 2018. The wildlife area will continue to operate under that agreement until a new one is in place.

As part of the licensing process, the Corps has identified areas where it wants a higher level of protection based on unique wildlife habitats or areas of cultural concern. These "Environmental Sensitive Areas" (ESA) will require CPW to more closely manage public access and impacts.

In addition, the Corps wants CPW to change its management strategy in areas that receive higher-than-normal public use.

The south shore is very popular for fishing, camping and other outdoor recreation, the CPW said in its release. Currently, the south shore is managed as a “dispersed camping area” with no facilities. Under new Corps requirements, camping will be restricted to designated areas and CPW will be required to provide some basic facilities, such as portable toilets and trash service.

There were no official interior roads in the park, community members were told Tuesday. The new plan, however, includes restrictions on vehicle access that are necessary to protect the Lesser Tern and other endangered birds that nest in the area at the south side of the reservoir.

New roads will be built over the next three years, elevated and with gravel construction, and two designated camping areas will be cleared of vegetation and marked for use.

“This is a positive step forward to better protect the resources and limit public impacts to a high use recreation area,” Travis Black, CPW’s area wildlife manager in Lamar, said in the statement.

“We want to let the public know of the proposed changes to the license and assure them we will maintain public access for the intended purposes of hunting, fishing and watchable wildlife."

Here are the expected changes and standing rules:

Designated road plan. Designated camping areas (no camp unattended for 48 hours) No vehicle traffic in Environmentally Sensitive Areas (year around) All vehicles and trailers must stay within 50 feet of any road for recreational purposes. Speed limit is 15 mph. No fireworks allowed. No overhead valve engines allowed. Dogs must be on a leash at all times unless used for hunting purposes. Do not cut standing trees. Four-wheel drive or high clearance vehicles are recommended.

“A permanent pool of water now exists in the reservoir, and fishing is good," Tague said Tuesday. "This is the largest body of water in Colorado when measured by acre feet. Some lakes and reservoirs are deeper, but John Martin covers the most ground, at a maximum depth of about 60 feet."

People will still be allowed to fish from the bank, but boats won't be allowed in the designated endangered wildlife area, from the beginning of migratory bird season in November until the end of that season.

The effective date of the proposed changes is not yet clear, but it's anticipated to be in the near future, the CPW said.