NAVAJO DAM — Restoration of the 80-acre Hammond Tract along the San Juan River is a "real gift" for the public, officials said Friday.
That is how New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Director Alexandra Sandoval described the completed project during a dedication ceremony at the tract in the town of Navajo Dam.
Hammond Tract provides access to a half mile of trout fishing water and is a place to launch and retrieve small boats. Over the years, public access to the water was limited because of overgrown salt cedar and Russian olive, which are both invasive plants that require lots of water to survive.
"It was basically a solid wall of thorns," said Marc Wethington, a San Juan River fisheries biologist with the Department of Game and Fish.
Under the restoration project, 45 acres of salt cedar and Russian olive were cleared and one mile of trout habitat was restored, a waterfowl pond was developed and a new restroom, parking lot and boat launch area were built.
"The idea behind it was to make it more accessible and more enjoyable for the public and for outdoor recreation," Wethington said.
Officials said the improvement would increase public access and could result in an 80 percent increase in usage by anglers and hunters.
Gov. Susana Martinez spoke during the dedication and said the restoration was one way to sustain the river for future generations.
"This project was envisioned several years ago by the state game and fish commission. They saw the need to ensure the San Juan River will continue to be one of the best trout fishing spots in the nation," Martinez said.
State Game Commission Chairman Paul Kienzle said the improvements are beneficial to the local economy because there are approximately 100 days for angler fishing.
The $550,000 project was a collaborative effort between the New Mexico Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, ConocoPhillips, WPX Energy, San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District, New Mexico State Forestry and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
Steve Henke, president of New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, remembered the struggle to navigate through the tangle of salt cedar and Russian olive trees and the steep and slick river bank.
"You had to be very careful as you came down the river to find that little wedge of opening or you would float by and miss it then it was a struggle to tie up down there and walk back to your truck," Henke said.
But after seeing the improvements, he said the spot will now provide a "tremendous opportunity" to enjoy the river.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.