Bob and Suzanne Fanch have owned the 6,000-acre Devil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa in Tabernash for 20 years. They came to realize the importance of the Colorado headwaters to the Western economy and lifestyle when they acquired the ranch’s water rights and began to learn about the state’s water laws, the history of water rights being sold to Front Range cities by previous ranch owners, and, the challenges of maintaining in-stream flows on the Western Slope.
The river system in Grand County is part of the headwaters for the Colorado River, a river that supplies water to over 40 million people in 7 western states and Mexico. The drainage has been a battleground for the precious resource for more than 150 years. The water rights quickly became a complex web of water law in the late 1800’s. Over the years, a series of portals were built to move water from the west slope through the Continental Divide to the eastern communities. As the communities grew, so did their demand for western water.
Fast forward to today and you have a river system that has been tapped hard and is struggling to maintain aquatic and riparian balance.
The Fraser River, a tributary of the mighty Colorado River, is approximately 32.5 miles long and has been on the most endangered rivers list for more than a decade.
As the Fanch’s learned more about the pressures on the river system in Grand County and the struggles the headwaters community was facing, they decided an educational component to the Headwaters Center would be a catalyst for education and conversation. Bob Fanch said, “We thought it was important to create an educational facility to help people understand where their water comes from and realize the importance of conservation and management.”
As the concepts for the new facility came to life, it was clear that the Headwaters River Journey could become a model for water education. Fanch said, “We did an enormous amount of research and traveled the planet searching for exhibits that would help us tell our story, but couldn’t find anything like it.”
As part of the Headwaters Center, the interactive Headwaters River Journey brings unique, cutting-edge cultural and educational resources to the community. It features scientific exhibits illustrating why the headwaters are important and how they are created, the history of water usage and water diversions over time, all presented in an engaging, entertaining, interactive format. It encourages individual conservation and is designed to spark ideas about how to address the issues.
“A primary goal of the Headwaters Center is to provide a place for various water interests to come together to constructively discuss and address these issues to minimize the future impacts on rivers in Colorado,” said Bob Fanch, who created the Sprout Foundation with his wife, Suzanne.
“Our goal is to bring people of all walks of life and water needs together to understand and address the challenges we face in managing this vital resource,” he added. “We also hope to provide a fun, engaging experience that will become a compelling cultural asset for Grand County.”
A project funded by the Sprout Foundation, Headwaters River Journey is part of the Headwaters Center, a sustainably-built community resource that also hosts cultural events and other educational programs. The Sprout Foundation was started by Bob and Suzanne Fanch with a mission to support early childhood education programs and protecting the environment.
“The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is proud to be a programmatic partner of the Headwaters Center,” said George Sparks, president and CEO of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
“We are especially excited about the new Headwaters River Journey experience, which is poised to be an important catalyst for deepening our community’s passion for understanding and protecting Colorado’s unparalleled natural environment,” Sparks added. “How wonderful it will be to see Coloradans of all ages engaged in the vital story of water in such a unique and insightful way!”
Headwaters River Journey will help visitors learn about one of the nation’s most valuable and scarce resources – the water that flows into the Colorado River and is the lifeblood for industry, agriculture and the survival of millions of people reliant on the water..
The nonprofit Headwaters Center, with the Headwaters River Journey interactive experience, is built on land donated by the Town of Winter Park. The center provides a valuable cultural enhancement for the community, and, in an increasingly competitive tourism environment, it offers a world-class environmental attraction that no other mountain town in Colorado offers.
Headwaters River Journey brings unique cultural and educational resources to the community. It features scientific exhibits illustrating why the headwaters are important and how they are created, the history of water usage and water diversions over time, all presented in an engaging, entertaining, interactive format. It encourages individual conservation and is designed to spark ideas about how to address the challenges posed by growing demand for finite water resources.
It is expected to become a must-see destination for Coloradans, as well as tourists on their way to Grand Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park, which has more than 4.5 million visitors annually. Fanch said, “This facility will have an economic impact on the local economy.”
The Headwaters River Journey will open to the public on Sunday, July 14. Admission to the Headwaters River Journey interactive exhibit space will be $15 for general admission, $12 for guests over 65, $8 for guests 5-15 and free for children 4 and under.
The Headwaters River Journey, an immersive experience in understanding the critical role Colorado’s rivers play in the nation’s economy, the health of the planet and our quality of life.
For more information, go to headwatersriverjourney.com.