(Photo above) CHASE SWIFT STANDS NEXT to the largest of several ponds at the Swift Ponds property on Wednesday. According to his late father’s wishes, Swift is transferring ownership of the land to Colorado Youth Outdoors, an afterschool outdoor education and recreation program for high school students.
ERIC BELLAMY / email@example.com
The fishing ponds: Family donates land that will help Colorado Youth Outdoors connect with youngsters
Dan England, firstname.lastname@example.org
August 9, 2007
Even before Louie Swift turned a chunk of hardscrabble farmland stuffed with gravel into an oasis of ponds just east of Interstate 25 and north of the Windsor exit, it was Chase Swift’s favorite place to go as a kid.
He fished in the one shallow pond, created, Chase thinks today, after it was mined for asphalt to pave the interstate. It was the perfect distance, a quarter-mile walk or so, to enjoy a spot of fishing and have the sun melt his tiny troubles away.
When his father died in 2003, Swift had transformed into a dozen ponds, each one full of fish and visited by birds of all feathers. It was Chase’s job, besides his work as a freelance photographer, to arrange tours and visits by groups of kids. That was Louie’s dream, to have a place where children, especially those with a fight ahead of them (either due to a disability or a hard life at home), could catch their first fish.
Chase had just started fulfilling his father’s wishes when a group of junior high students were fishing the trout pond, the only pond that’s stocked every year, and the only one where kids can take a fish home instead of releasing it back to the wild. The water temperature was perfect, so the kids, with their poor casts slapping the water, were catching fish by the buckets. Chase went by one kid and asked him how many he had caught. “Oh, 10,” the kid said.
“That’s when I realized that boy will never forget that day he spent in an incredible place,” Chase said. “I’ve never forgotten that day.”
Now 45, Chase lives in Wellington, but he still spends much of his time out at Swift Ponds. But soon he’ll relinquish most of the control and responsibility to a new owner, Colorado Youth Outdoors, possibly by the end of August, as soon as all the legal issues are worked out.
Louie, a real estate agent for farmland who, among other highlights, handled the transaction that later became the Kodak plant in Windsor, bought the 240-acre property in 1969 for farming, but after he discovered all the gravel, he mined it and began forming his vision. He mined chunks of the land rather than the whole portion, with the goal of having several ponds with different kinds of fish rather than one giant pool of water.
He worked with Colorado State University’s fisheries biologists and their students to stock the ponds and create habitats where they would thrive. The result is ponds full of bluegills, bass, catfish and, in one pond, 45-pound grass carp. The ponds, save for the trout pond, are self-sustaining.
That’s one reason Colorado Youth Outdoors was drooling at the prospect of taking ownership of the land. The organization uses the outdoors to build healthy relationships between kids and parents and has programs in Windsor, Roosevelt and Johnstown and will start one at Greeley Central this fall.
“We knew we had stumbled onto something just unbelievable,” said Bob Hewson, executive director and co-founder of Colorado Youth Outdoors with his brother, Tom, in 2001. “We had two visions that were very similar, and Louie had the facilities to pull it off.”
Colorado Youth Outdoors, however, has plans to take Swift Ponds far beyond Louie’s vision. Through an aggressive fundraising campaign, the organization hopes to add a shooting center, an education pavilion and make several improvements, including docks that look like big squares, making it easy for a kid in a wheelchair to get the best spot at the lake to fish — right on top of it.
“We’re going to take what we received,” Hewson said, “and add $5 million to it.”
The place won’t be open to the public, but it will be available for youth groups and nonprofit organizations with the same mission of introducing kids to the outdoors. The organization hopes to allow other groups to use it by January.
Chase’s family is a little nervous about giving away such a prized piece of their childhood. He doesn’t even know why Louie wanted the land in the first place, but he knows what his father’s wishes were for it after he died. Selling the land — valued at more than $1 million — would have gone against those wishes.
Chase and his two sisters are satisfied to keep the vision not only alive but thriving. He’ll still visit the place where he spent a good portion of his childhood, and he’ll take pride in sharing it with others.
And as he spoke about the way Swift will look one day, as an oasis for children who need a break, a pelican flew across three of the ponds. Chase paused and watched the bird head for a place to eat. “They love this spot too,” Chase said.