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Angling or solitude?

Anglers visiting the San Juan River in northern New Mexico this summer will discover a new 80-acre aquatic park featuring plenty of fishing improvements, lots of shady cottonwood trees and one of the best swimming holes on the river.

Carved out of a nearly impenetrable forest of water-robbing salt cedar and thorny Russian olive trees, the state Game & Fish Department has turned its Hammond Tract into what should become a very popular recreational area.

Acquired in the late 1980s from the federal government, the property is located about 14 miles south of the town of Navajo Dam. For years, it was nothing more than a rutted dirt road ending at a hole hacked through the trees where boaters could land.

Now, there’s a new concrete boat take-out ramp, an improved parking lot and a fresh outhouse. The invasive tree species have been cleared away while the towering cottonwoods remain, along with newly planted native vegetation.

A small creek flows under a canopy of cottonwood trees into a newly-created pond to benefit waterfowl. Fifteen in-stream structures were installed to improve fishing and water quality.

Visitors to the park will find a large pool in the river at the base of the parking lot created by the installation of a ring of boulders that looks like a tempting place to take a cool dip on a hot summer’s day.

Anglers will find about a half-mile of river running through the park with private property owners to the north and federally owned land to the south, says Marc Wethington, a state fisheries biologist stationed on the San Juan River.

The Hammond project is just the latest in a series of improvements Wethington has overseen in recent years on the river as the department works to maintain high-quality fishing conditions despite lower flows from Navajo Dam.

The latest project now opens up a whole new area to anglers and others seeking a respite from the crowds that are commonly found on the trophy class waters just below the dam further upstream.

“The solitude here should be a real draw for those seeking some time alone on the river,” Wethington says.

At Hammond Tract, one can expect to find an occasional big brown trout lurking in the depths while plenty of stocked rainbows make it an ideal place for those fishing for dinner. The surrounding scenery is bucolic with farm pastures, the bosque and desert buttes dominating the landscape.

The estimated $625,000 project was funded by grants from the New Mexico State Forestry and the San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District, federal wildlife and sport fish excise taxes on the sale of sporting goods, state Game & Fish funds and contributions from Conoco Phillips, WPX Energy and the New Mexico Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said Mike Sloan, chief of fisheries management for the state Game & Fish Department.

The park is slated to officially reopen to the public in late July or early August to give native grasses planted on site a chance to sprout from expected monsoon rains, Sloan said.

To get to Hammond Tract, look for an unmarked dirt road off N.M. 511 just shy of the intersection of US 64; signs have yet to be installed.

Those traveling southwest from Navajo Dam will find it after passing through the village of Turley and climbing a hill marked by a bright green house trailer. The road will be on the right just under the high power lines; turn in and stay to the left and follow to the power substation; then take the turnoff down to the river.

Coming from U.S. 64, visitors will go .9 mile on N.M. 511 and pass two oil and gas well sites on the left before reaching the power lines crossing the road. The turnoff is to the left.

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