Joel Evans hasn’t forgotten his first experience at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison decades ago.
When he made his first drive up to the park, Evans didn’t expect the vastness of the Black Canyon’s 2,722 feet depth. He added the park is in an “odd place” considering it’s outside of an agricultural valley and the depth is nearly impossible to see unless “you’re on top of it.”
“You say, ‘Wow, how can this even be here in sort of my backyard,’” Evans said. “It’s so spectacular and not well-known.”
Over the years, he has walked on every trail found at the Black Canyon, as well as hiked down to the bottom twice.
Evans’ experiences pushed him to raise awareness of the local gem. Evans, other community members and Black Canyon Superintendent Bruce Noble, have created the non-profit organization, Friends of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
The nonprofit formed about two years ago, and has increased activity in the past year, according to Friends of the Black Canyon Executive Director Melissa Alcorn. She said most national parks have a non-profit partner but Black Canyon does not.
Alcorn said Noble told the members the organization’s support will help the National Park Service create projects that staffers can’t get to.
Evans, who is the chairman of the nonprofit, said the organization is keen to help the Black Canyon through building awareness its needs. The group also wants to be an advocate for the scenic, recreational, wildlife, geological, ecological and historical resources of the park.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison has seen its popularity grow in the past year.
It had an uptick in visitors in 2018, when 308,962 people enjoyed the popular attraction and its programs. The 2018 numbers at Black Canyon, an increase of about 1 percent compared with 2017’s, mark the highest recorded visitation since 1992.
The nonprofit has a couple of projects in the works.
One program would train six to 10 trail ambassadors to go to different areas and help visitors, Alcorn said. They would also be tasked to provide water and other items, as well as check for permits for those wanting to go down into the canyon.
“It will be an extra set of eyes and ears for the park,” said Alcorn.
Additionally, the Friends of the Black Canyon is in the planning phases of creating tent pads for every campsite in the park. There are a few now, but the majority of the sites don’t have them, Alcorn said. The tent pads will help protect the park’s ecology.
Friends of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison will hold a spring “friend-raiser” which includes an auction from 4:30-6:30 p.m., Friday, May 17 at the Ute Indian Museum, 17253 Chipeta Road.
The event is a way to help awareness of the nonprofit and its goals for the park’s future, Evans said.
Auction items include Black Canyon photography prints, jewelry, a fly box loaded with flies for the anglers and an Abel reel. The event is free but attendees have to RSVP. To do so, email friendsBLCA@gmail.com.
“This is another opportunity for the community to get behind and help the park,” Alcorn said. “We want to connect the community back to that park.”
Andrew Kiser is the Montrose Daily Press’ sports/business writer. Follow him on Twitter @andrew_kpress.