HomeLa Sal – Dark Canyon Stream Rehabilitation

La Sal – Dark Canyon Stream Rehabilitation

Dark Canyon Lake is a hidden gem located at the base of Mt. Peale in the La Sal Mountain Range. For many decades, this high-alpine retreat has been mostly known by locals. In recent years, the area—especially the lake—has increased in popularity. Most recreationalists used the area for camping, fishing, hunting, and hiking. Dark Canyon Lake can provide excellent trout fishing when it has sufficient water. But without an abundance of groundwater, (since the lake is mostly fed by natural springs) the lake usually struggles to maintain the necessary habitat for fish to survive from year to year. Additionally, visitor overuse has taken its toll on the area, creating a unique challenge for Trust Lands to find a balance. In 2011, Trust Lands began working on solutions to solve these issues in the area. It was quickly realized this project needed support and guidance from experts throughout the state. So, we reached out to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources—also known as the Utah State Department of Fish and Game—as they have been monitoring fish populations and water quality at Dark Canyon Lake for decades. In a 1965 survey, biologists found that the lack of water sources available during winter months resulted in very marginal conditions for fish survival. Winter fish kills plagued the lake from the 1960s to the early 2000s. Angling pressure at the lake increased over the years, but the fish population fluctuated due to a lack of water, spawning habitat, and natural recruitment. The 1992 Dark Canyon Lake Water Management Plan Summary described how improving the lake’s inlet so that all the flow in Dark Canyon—especially during low flow conditions—would enter the lake, in addition to installing a hypolimnetic outlet would solve fish winter kills. Achieving this goal would allow DWR to maintain the popular fishery and provide diversity by stocking tiger trout and arctic grayling. Next, the Division of Water Rights helped Trust Lands obtain the proper permits to allow the redirection of a nearby stream that once flowed onto the lake. There was overwhelming support from Trust Lands directors and sister agencies to improve recreational opportunities and protect water quality at Dark Canyon, and the work was completed in several phases. First, a team of Trust Lands staff and volunteers spent several days cleaning up trash around the lake and surrounding areas. Then in late summer, crews began work on the stream alteration and developed camping areas. A new channel was excavated for the stream water to reach the lake. At the inlet, built by hand, crews created a waterfall that helps aerate the water before entering the lake, which is very important for fish survival. A few years later a pit toilet was installed. This has helped tremendously to keep the water clean and the area sanitary. Most recently, a footbridge has been installed across the inlet stream to allow access for visitors with mobility limitations. Today, the lake has become a thriving fishery, and many people have been able to visit and enjoy the area with minimal impact. This project is an example of Trust Lands’ commitment to proper stewardship of its lands.

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