ARBOLES, COLO. — Standing on the dock at Two Rivers Marina, Sheri Figgs supervised her husband and her father as they loaded the family's boat onto their truck's trailer after a day of relaxing at Navajo Lake.

"We love this place," said Sheri Figgs, who, along with her husband, Dan, owns land in Allison, Colo., and a garden plot near Navajo Lake. "That's why we bought our land out here."

They aren't the only ones who like to unwind at the lake. Originally created as a storage reservoir for the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project, Navajo Lake has since become a popular recreation site.

Each year, Navajo State Park, which is located in Arboles, Colo., attracts more than 300,000 visitors, including locals like the Figgs, according to a press release from the park.

Various boats are seen on Thursday at Navajo State Park in Arboles, Colo.
Various boats are seen on Thursday at Navajo State Park in Arboles, Colo. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

The park will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Saturday. A ceremony at noon will commemorate the milestone.

The park facilities in Colorado opened in 1964, two years after Navajo Dam was completed on the New Mexico side of the lake. The lake stretches 35 miles north of the dam into Colorado near Arboles, though the majority of the lake is located in Navajo Lake State Park in New Mexico.

Prior to July 1958, the area that is now Navajo State Park was private land, where families lived and farmed. About 50 families had to be relocated after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation purchased the land.

"Sometimes, the elders will stop by and say, 'My grandfather's house was there,'" said Elizabeth Fischer, a park employee.

After the Bureau of Reclamation constructed the reservoir, the water covered small communities and archaeological sites near Rosa, N.M., and Los Arboles, Colo.

Aside from the issue of procuring the land, the project ran into delays because of construction costs.

The first investigation into placing a dam on the San Juan River near the Colorado-New Mexico border began in 1904, according to a state park brochure. However, the first major proposal occurred in 1930. When the proposed dam was incorporated into the Colorado River Storage Project in the 1950s, construction on Navajo Dam finally began. The dam was dedicated in September 1962.

The entrance to Navajo State Park is seen on Thursday in Arboles, Colo.
The entrance to Navajo State Park is seen on Thursday in Arboles, Colo. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

Navajo Lake currently provides water for irrigation and municipal and industrial purposes, including oil, gas and electrical generation stretching from the dam to Shiprock. A hydroelectric facility managed by the City of Farmington is located at the base of Navajo Dam.

Construction of the dam isolated various fish species. Prior to the construction of the dam, the river was muddy and silt-filled, creating the perfect habitat for the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker, which are now endangered partially because the river below the dam is now cold and clear. By stocking the lake and river with pikeminnows and suckers and improving flows and fish passage facilities through the dam, scientists hope to help the endangered fish species recover, according to the state park's brochure.

Jet skiers leave the marina at Navajo State Park in Arboles, Colo., on Thursday.
Jet skiers leave the marina at Navajo State Park in Arboles, Colo., on Thursday. (Jon Austria/ The Daily Times)

Another part of helping the fish stems from removing predatory non-native fish, such as the channel catfish.

A school of black channel catfish fry grazed on algae near the shore on Thursday afternoon while large non-native carp leapt near the boats moored at the marina.

Debbie Tuck, who works at the marina, stood near the school of carp. Tuck grew up on Florida Mesa near the lake and enjoys fishing in the area. She recalled one time when she caught a 41-inch, 17-pound pike.

Tuck said she tries to fish on the lake frequently and can usually catch carp, salmon, channel catfish and pike. The rivers surrounding the lake are also rich in rainbow trout.

"Catching might not always be good, but the fishing always is," she said.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.