For a lot of businesses, summer is a season based on three weekends; Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. If you miss one, or all three of these weekends, things could end up pretty bleak or worse for business. But warm weather holiday weekends are every week for Monique Mullis and her team at Lake Pueblo.
Starting as a seasonal employee in 1990 at Lake Pueblo also known as the Pueblo Reservoir, and working her way up to Parks Manager, Mullis has seen southern Colorado’s premier aquatic recreational option grow in popularity. It’s not surprising. Boaters looking to enjoy the water flock to this lake from all parts of Colorado, as well thousands more from northern New Mexico and eastern Kansas.
“We’re full every single weekend in the summer,” said Mullis. “There’s not much of a difference between holidays and weekends. We’ve got a thousand slips.” And, she added, there are more than six-thousand people on site from Friday night to Sunday afternoon from May to September. It’s the equivalent of a small town setting up camp once a week. While most of the over-nighters at the Lake stay near the water there are approximately 400 campsites while Pueblo itself gets its share of visitor runoff.
“We feel so fortunate to have a major outdoor recreation destination located just eight miles from our downtown,” said Rod Slyhoff, President of the Pueblo Chamber of Commerce. Even though most Lake visitors, an estimated two million each year stay near the water. Slyhoff added that the town gets a nice economic shot in the arm with plenty of out-of-towners taking the time to get to Pueblo where they can visit and experience everything from downtowns’ crown jewel, the River Walk, to its restaurants or historic Union Avenue District. The veteran Pueblo booster also says his group makes certain that the Lake is omnipresent in its mailings, brochures and videos.
To go along with the two marinas at the lake, park management just re-opened one of the facility’s more popular, family-friendly sites, the swim beach. It had been closed due to major damage caused by one of region’s most destructive storms. The beach is free but visitors still have to pay the same $7 park entrance fee. Beach hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Mondays until Labor Day.
The Lake also means jobs, public and private. Concessionaires staff operations in a number of places around the lake providing food and other supplies. Mullis has her own full-time crew of fifteen employees, all state workers, and a smaller group of seasonal help. This year there are sixty part-time employees on site, and they stay busy.
Mullis’ job is more administrative. Her operations manager oversees most of the daily water-related issues, she said. “That leaves me to do a lot more community outreach, partnerships,” and a mixture of handling other issues ranging from infrastructure to law enforcement. “I’m also a commissioned officer,” Mullis adds.
With six thousand new visitors dropping in every five days, Mullis must also deal with things that just pop up which can range from alcohol-related issues on the water, DUI’s, to drownings. “Luckily,” said the Pueblo native, park rangers have not had to deal with this kind of matter in over four years. But, every weekend, she said, her staff is prepared to handle boat rescues, medical issues, even maintaining the environmental issues of the park.
“Rangers try to keep people off the vegetation and parked in the right places. With this many people, we try to be preventative.” But with a meager-sized staff, an approximate sixty-mile shoreline and an eleven-mile body of water, keeping things running smoothly can be challenging. But she loves the job. And, reflecting upward trends in visitation indicate that visitors love what she and her staff are doing.
The lake, which opened in 1975, has meant everything to Larry Ohrdorf. As its first water was trickling in as part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Frying Pan-Arkansas project, he was selling motorcycles from a modest storefront property on Pueblo’s east-side. That’s when his wife casually mentioned that, perhaps, selling boats to go along with the motorcycles might be a good idea.
He recounted the story with a line (her line) that he’s shared hundreds of times. The story never changes. And his wife always gets the credit. “If we can sell two or three boats on Fourth Street from a motorcycle shop,” he remembers her saying, “imagine what could happen near the water.” And their company, Rocky Mountain Boat Company was born. It is now headquartered in Pueblo West, near the water. He also proudly points out that his boat sales are tops across Colorado.
Ohrdorf sells all varieties of boats and would probably sell yachts if the lake could hold them. “The lake is open for all different types of recreation,” so he sells all different types of boats. His fastest movers are for day fishers, the small fishing boats. But pontoon boats, the kind used for wake board and surfing, are also popular. “We’re demographically for all age groups,” he said. “Our customers are from their twenties to their seventies.” And whether for sales or maintenance, “we have our staff on the lake all year round.”
It doesn’t matter the month, the Lake is open twelve months a year. “Lake Pueblo is a cold and warm water lake.” Both trout and walleye, two Colorado staples, are in ample supply year round.
Anyone planning to visit Lake Pueblo for boating, trail hiking, motorcycling or simply to be near the water for Labor Day would do well making reservations. “Every vehicle needs to have a parks pass,” said Mullis. A pass sells for $7. All other fee information can be found at the park’s website,
Be warned, said Mullis, park space is filling up quickly. It’s the end of the summer and, if August is like July when more than 250,000 visitors came calling, it’s going to be crowded. But, she added, it may also be one of the most enjoyable weekends of the summer.
On the other hand, if crowds make you uncomfortable, there will be plenty of other opportunities. The Lake is open every day, twelve months a year with the exception of a handful of holidays.