One of the main land features in the area surrounding Jackson Lake State Park is the South Platte River which runs across the northeastern region of Colorado. This area was originally inhabited by Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe American Indians.
During the 18th century, French explorers crossed the area and named both the South and North Platte Rivers. Some speculate that the name ‘Platte” came from the flat-bottomed river boat, called a platte, that was used to navigate the river during that period. These early explorers had little use for the river, saying that it was too wide, too muddy and not deep enough to be useful.
Exploration, Development and Gold
The 19th century brought about many changes to the area around Jackson Lake State Park. Major Stephen H. Long explored the open prairies of Colorado in 1820. Like others before him, Long did not see how people could use the land for agricultural purposes because the South Platte River was the only source of water for the entire region.
When gold was discovered in Colorado in the late 1850s, people from all over began ‘rushing’ to the state with the hopes of striking it rich. The Overland Trail, which hugs the South Platte River, was developed as a transportation route from the eastern plains into Denver. Thousands of pioneers journeyed to the Front Range on the Overland Trail. Wagon trains full of spirited explorers crossed the plains of eastern Colorado on the Overland Trail, following the same basic route that today’s explorers travel on Interstate 76.
Need for Water
With the influx of people into Colorado, many saw the need to provide water storage, especially in areas like eastern Colorado where water resources were scarce. Jackson Reservoir was built by the South Platte Land, Reservoir and Irrigation Company between 1901 and 1902 as a solution to the water storage problem and for irrigation purposes. In order to meet the agricultural needs of the arid plains, miles of irrigation canals from the South Platte River were built. These canals feed the Jackson Reservoir, and many others like it. Jackson Reservoir was named after Leonard A. Jackson, a Weld County pioneer, who came in 1875 after freighting between Denver and Leadville. Mr. Jackson helped construct many irrigation canals in the Orchard District. "Len" Jackson and his wife, Mildred, owned ranches in the Orchard area, and later near Keota.
Jackson Lake State Park is Born
Land around the reservoir was used for agricultural purposes for several decades. It wasn’t until 1962 that the area began to see recreational use. The State of Colorado purchased property around the reservoir and managed the area as a hunting and fishing sanctuary.
In 1965, the Colorado Game, Fish and Parks Department assumed responsibility for the recreational facilities at Jackson Lake Reservoir, and Jackson Lake State Park was born.
Today Jackson Lake State Park is known as an “oasis in the plains.” Park visitors come to enjoy some of the best boating, fishing, swimming and water skiing conditions in Colorado. With 3,303 acres of land and water to explore, Jackson Lake State Park is truly paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.