- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 9, 2016

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Considering it’s a lake that doesn’t hold water, Barber Lake is a popular destination.

Sitting just a few miles west of Centennial and half a mile from Wyoming Highway 130 on Barber Lake Road, the low-elevation stop offers a picnic site adjacent to a lake stocked each year by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, reported the Laramie Boomerang (https://bit.ly/2fhX8LY).

“It’s a very, very popular fishery,” said Lee McDonald, a fisheries biologist with the department.

The lake offers wheelchair-accessible fishing, and it’s free of snow and ice much earlier in the summer than its high-alpine cousins up the mountain. McDonald said Game and Fish tries to have the lake filled with water and stocked with catchable-sized rainbow trout by Memorial Day.

“Game wardens have mentioned it’s more heavily used than any other single lake in the range,” he said. “It gets a lot of use.”

But, like summer tourists and warm weather, Barber Lake at its finest is a temporary condition.

Barber Lake is man-made, and it leaks. Despite efforts by the U.S. Forest Service in the past to remedy the problem by adding clay to the lake bed and lining the outlet with plastic, it doesn’t hold water, Forst Service spokesman Aaron Voos said.

Lowell Hart, who works as a caretaker at nearby Snowy Range Lodge, said the sight of a stocked lake losing water isn’t pretty.

“It creates quite a stink,” he said.

Hart doesn’t think stocking it each year is a good use of resources, considering the transplanted fish lose their home a few months after they move in.

“Is it a good idea to fill a lake that you know is going to drain out, and when you cut the water, you know that all the fish that are put in there are going to get beached?” he said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

The U.S. Forest Service holds a water right, dating back to 1919, that’s used to fill the lake by diverting water from nearby Libby Creek through a short canal.

McDonald said the lake only stays filled as long as water is flowing into it, and the Forest Service must yield to senior water rights.

“Some years we can’t fill or it or we can’t maintain it for very long,” he said.

In the summer, the water was shut off in mid-August, McDonald said, and the lake drained after about three weeks.

Hart said he and several other neighbors tried to move a few fish into Libby Creek before the lake dried out, even though he’s not sure they’ll survive the winter there.

“While I was up there ankle-deep in mud, it made me a little hot,” he said.

McDonald said the popularity of the lake, its proximity to several campgrounds and the fact that it provides wheelchair access make it worth stocking, even knowing the trout won’t survive.

“We definitely feel good about being able to provide a fishery there,” he said.

Lake Marie, near the summit of the Snowy Range Scenic Byway, has a paved sidewalk along the south shore, but wheelchair-accessible options in the Snowies are few. In Curt Gowdy State Park, Granite and Crystal reservoirs have accessible amenities.

“We’re always looking for more places, and when those opportunities present themselves, we go with them,” McDonald said. “It’s a pretty high value to us, when we do have those areas.”

Tia Reed teaches in the Personalized Learning Services program at Laramie High School. The program is for students with severe cognitive or physical disabilities. About 10 students went on a field trip to Barber Lake in the summer.

Reed said the lake’s proximity to the highway meant students could ride a school bus all the way in. Those with mobility limitations could fish off a concrete pad that abuts the shore and use the accessible restroom.

“It’s easy for kids that aren’t very mobile to stand there and fish over a ledge,” she said.

Students were able to see the fish swimming in the lake, and while only one student caught a fish, many felt nibbles at the ends of their lines.

“Fishing is something recreational that they can do, that they can learn and use the rest of their life,” Reed said.

Game and Fish loaned fishing poles to the group and provided a classroom-wide license. Reed said Barber Lake was ideal for the field trip because the high school students are too old to fish at Huck Finn Pond at LaPrele Park, but not experienced enough to catch a fish at other area lakes. Huck Finn Pond is stocked and also has a wheelchair-accessible dock, but fishing is limited to children.

Game and Fish uses catchable-sized fish - meaning they measure 8 or 9 inches long - in waters that can’t sustain a fish population long-term, McDonald said. Such waters might have too many anglers, or they don’t have the right habitat.

“That’s a classification we use for fish we can put into a fishery and make it an instant fishery, but without a huge expectation that it’s going to maintain itself over time,” he said.

He said it’s unfortunate that Barber Lake drains for the winter with live fish still in it, and Game and Fish personnel try to remove as many fish as they can. This year, they captured about 200 fish and moved them to nearby Hanging Lake. They estimated there were 40 or 50 left when they gave up because the water was too muddy, he said.

By trial and error, Game and Fish stocks the lake with enough fish for anglers, but not too many, he said. This year the department added 2,000 rainbows.

“It’s a tradeoff between being able to provide a good fishery that makes it justifiable to manage it that way, I think,” he said.

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Information from: Laramie Boomerang, https://www.laramieboomerang.com


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