Standley Lake, Colorado, USA
A welcoming oasis on Colorado’s dry Front Range region, Standley Lake draws residents and visitors alike to its shores. Unsung sentinel to the north Denver suburbs population growth, the Standley Lake Reservoir provides drinking water to over 250,000 people – and so much more. Citizens of Westminster to the east and Arvada to the south enjoy the calming views of quiet waters as they go about their daily business, knowing the lake’s open spaces will be there for their enjoyment whenever they choose to visit.
This was not always so, however: farmers in the 1800s struggled to secure enough water for crops. Many disagreements, some violent, pitted upstream farmers against those downstream during the many dry years. Long before Denver or Boulder were growing cities, settlers were tied to the creek banks in a never-ending quest for enough precious water to make a living. Away from the river’s course, few businesses could survive on scarce well-water alone. Finally, in 1905, the Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company was formed to channel and store water from Clear Creek. The resulting reservoir was named Standley Lake after Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company’s first secretary, OJ Standley.
For awhile, it appeared the reservoir wouldn’t be built as several landowners were reluctant to give up their land, insisting gold deposits existed below the proposed reservoir. A unique purchase agreement gave the original owners continued mineral rights at 500 feet below the reservoir bed. To date, there has apparently been no concerted effort to reach the rumored gold – the liquid gold in the reservoir, in the form of water, has proved value enough. A mile-long dam was built to contain the water from the three inlet canals; Farmers High Line Canal,Church Ditch and Croke Canal, all diverted from Clear Creek below Golden. By 1919, the original reservoir was filled, providing a vastly larger supply of water for farming and homes. Standley Lake was born.
Because of the inability of the city of Denver to provide residential water to the suburb of Westminster, Standley Lake Dam was enlarged in 1963 to increase capacity to nearly 43,000 acre-feet and give Westminster part-ownership of the stored water. Standley Lake now provides drinking water to not only Westminster, but Thornton and Northglenn. A complicated arrangement of rights gives water rights for Standley Lake to Farmers Reservoir and Irrigation Company (FRICO), and the surface recreation rights are leased to the City of Westminster for use as a recreation area. An intergovernmental agreement governs water use and is managed by the Standley Lake Operations Committee, comprised of officials from the cities of Westminster, Northglenn and Thornton, as well as Jefferson County and FRICO.
To provide access to the beautiful lake, the Standley Lake Regional Park was created, encompassing areas on both the north and south shores. Once part of unincorporated Jefferson County, the north entrance to the Park is now from city streets. The park includes such amenities as a comfort station that includes restrooms, drinking fountain, pay phone and outside rinsing showers. A fish cleaning station is located near the comfort station. Both are closed during the winter months. There are also portable toilets positioned in other areas throughout the park, near horseshoe pits and volleyball courts. Near the comfort station is a campground and boat trailer parking lot. A four-lane boat ramp allows for convenient boat launches augmented by two auxiliary boat ramps, one near the south side of the dam and the other in the main day use area. A Nature Center offers exhibits in history of the area and examples of park wildlife.
Standley Lake has a unique method of making sure power boaters don’t take over the natural focus of the lake: boats with over 20 horsepower motors must obtain a permit, issued by lottery. The limited number of permits are first issued to local residents of the three towns owning water rights then to outside visitors. Day use by smaller boats is unlimited, making canoeing, kayaking and sailing favored activities. In keeping with the non-powered emphasis, a local non-profit sailing club provides sailing lessons to both children and adults. A small area of the north shore is off-limits as a sanctuary for a Bald Eagle nesting pair that has called the lake home for several years. Lucky visitors may see one of the pair swoop down to capture dinner for the chicks in the form of the parks’ most numerous four-legged residents: prairie dogs. Viewing stations are available to view the nesting site.
Fishermen are always welcome at Standley Lake. An inspection and permit system for all boats assures that invasive aquatic plants and mollusks don’t gain access to the water. The lake is stocked both as a warm and a cold-water fishery and supports Bluegill, Brown Trout, Carp, Catfish, Crappie, Cutbow Trout, Cutthroat Trout, Largemouth Bass, Perch, Rainbow Trout, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye and Wiper. Areas near the dam are suggested as good game fish locations. The dam itself is private FRICO property and is off-limits to the public. The reservoir is well known for its walleye fishing. Anglers need to be mindful that the lake has some unusual fishing limitations and pick up a regulatory guidebook before going out on the water.
Standley Lake is a unique wildlife viewing area, with the lake developed in the midst of a short-grass prairie. A variety of water birds, including great blue herons, white pelicans, western grebes, cormorants, gulls, Canadian geese, mallard ducks. Swainson’s hawks, prairie falcons, red-tailed hawks and nesting great horned owls call the lake home. Another lake dweller is the beaver. Mule deer, coyotes, red fox and other animals are commonly seen and burrowing owls and rabbits live in the prairie dog burrows. A trail from the nature Center leads to the bald eagle viewing blind. There is a well-maintained system of trails throughout both north and south portions of the park for hiking and cycling. Trails in the park connect to the city’s extensive trail network and are the starting point for Big Dry Creek Trail and the Farmers’ High Line Canal Trail. Two walk-in parking areas make trail access convenient to joggers and casual visitors.
Besides the shopping, restaurants, golf courses and amenities provided in Westminster and Arvada, Standley Lake is only 15 miles from downtown Boulder and Denver. This close proximity makes the Standley Lake area an excellent choice for an urban/lakefront vacation. Short and long-term lake- or mountain-view rentals and condos are available in all of these cities and can make it a unique working-vacation destination for a family whose breadwinner has business to attend to in Denver or Boulder. The kids can be swimming, taking sailing lessons or visiting the Nature Centers at either Standley Lake or Arvada while Dad tends to business in downtown Denver. Later, they can be tucked in within sight of the lakeshore under the watchful eye of a sitter while Mom and Dad head back in to the big city for some nightlife or fine dining. Denver has a spectacular menu of cultural activities and venues plus an excellent zoo. The Butterfly Pavilion, where butterflies are released daily, also provides a full menu of educational experiences and hands-on craft activities to the delight of all ages so parents should plan to take advantage of a visit with kids in tow at least once.
If you wish to experience the perfect Colorado Lake vacation, Standley Lake can provide both the water and the amenities you’re looking for. Search out vacation lodgings today and find out what you’ve been missing.
Things to do at Standley Lake
- Vacation Rentals
- Wildlife Viewing
Fish species found at Standley Lake
- Black Bass
- Brown Trout
- Cutthroat Trout
- Largemouth Bass
- Rainbow Trout
- Smallmouth Bass
Standley Lake Photo Gallery
Standley Lake Statistics & Helpful Links
Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed
Water Level Control: City of Westminster
Surface Area: 1,200 acres
Shoreline Length: 7 miles
Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,506 feet
Average Depth: 36 feet
Maximum Depth: 96 feet
Water Volume: 43,000 acre-feet
Completion Year: 1966
Water Residence Time: 1 year
Drainage Area: 2 sq. miles
Trophic State: Mesotrophic
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