BLOOMFIELD — The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is restoring wetlands and improving access to the Hammond Tract Wildlife Management Area along the San Juan River southwest of Navajo Dam.

Work began late last month to restore 20 acres of riparian habitat and a half-mile along the river in the 80-acre hunting and fishing area owned by the State Game Commission. It is expected to be completed by June 20.

The work will produce new wetlands areas, help stream habitats and replace dense thickets of non-native salt cedar and Russian olive trees — considered invasive species — with native plants, like willows.

Improvements also include replacing an old, rudimentary boat ramp, improving a parking area, installing picnic benches and upgrading bathrooms.

The Hammond Tract Fishing Area is shown on Friday off of New Mexico State Road 511 near Blanco.
The Hammond Tract Fishing Area is shown on Friday off of New Mexico State Road 511 near Blanco. (Megan Farmer/ The Daily Times)

The project area, located downstream from Navajo Dam, will be closed during the improvements.

"Boaters should exit the river before reaching the Hammond Tract boat ramp, since it is the last takeout before the Hammond Diversion," according to a press release from the Department of Game and Fish.

The river area where work is underway, which is located downstream from the Navajo Dam Quality Waters, is a popular destination for bait-based anglers.

"Partnerships with sportsmen and women, ConocoPhillips, WPX Energy and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife New Mexico made it possible to improve boater and angler access to the excellent trout waters here and return the habitat used by deer, turkey, geese and ducks to a more natural state," said Mike Sloane, the department's Fisheries Chief, in prepared remarks.

Wildlife Management Areas require people over the age of 18 to have a valid hunting or fishing license or a Gaining Access into Nature permit and a $4 Habitat Management and Access Validation stamp.

Licenses and permits are available at www.wildlife.state.nm.us or by calling 888-248-6866.

The Hammond Tract Fishing Area is shown on Friday off of New Mexico State Road 511 near Blanco.
The Hammond Tract Fishing Area is shown on Friday off of New Mexico State Road 511 near Blanco. (Megan Farmer/The Daily Times)

"The old boat ramp was very rustic. Now it's actually going to be an official boat ramp," said department spokeswoman Rachel Shockley. "Native species of plants will replace invasive ones, so instead of fighting your way through thicket, you're going to have a lot more ease and be able to enjoy the area. It's a beautiful part of the state."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.