Hey, Spike! joins group in spring cleaning of a ditch
Romancing the ditch in Salida, and the same with New Mexico’s acequias, brings needed waters to those who have the rights.
The same scenario happens higher on Summit County’s Lower Blue River, just later since it’s about a thousand feet higher than Salida and Taos at 7,000 feet.
In Salida over the weekend, Randy Hoch, president of the Meadowlark Estates HOA, a close-in up-on-the-mesa subdivision of 2-acre plots on the edge of town, rounded up his neighbors for the annual ditch clean out. You buy there, you get water rights from the Murray Ditch, decreed on April 16, 1882.
Ditch water doesn’t come without work — it requires clearing out the debris clogging the flows every spring, just a few days before they open the gates up near Poncha Springs.
In Colorado and New Mexico, it’s an annual rite that has no real set date on the calendar. It’s a feeling those in the know know. You don’t want to do it too early, nor too late.
Randy and his fellow Meadowlark-ers, plus others with connections to the dirt ditch, volunteered to dig and mingle socially.
The story of ditches can be found in reading Stanley Crawford’s “Mayordomo: A Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico,” about a gringo author who immerses himself and family in the social fabric of Northern New Mexico’s small community of Dixon, a stone’s throw from Taos.
He also wrote “The Garlic Testament;” both are recommended. They are in genre of Spike! and Breckenridge ski patroller Matt Krane’s friend John Nichols, who wrote “The Milagro Beanfield War.”
In New Mexico, you’ll find multiple generations of families maintaining the earthen aqueducts’ deliverance of fluid nourishment vital to all — everything.
Down through the San Luis Valley, about 170 miles south of Salida, Frisco lawyer Jim Bull owns a home in Arroyo Seco (dry ditch), and is very familiar with Crawford’s “Mayordomo.” They refer to it as the “Green Book by SC.”
Jim is the author of “Out of Time,” about Arroyo Seco’s 250-year history. His work is known down there as the “Purple Book.”
In the Heart of the Rockies, Randy, a retired Denver banker and Spike!’s brother-in-law, had alerted fellow Meadowlark homeowners who met at the mailboxes at 8:15, where a few general instructions were offered before heading up Chaffee County Road 120, crossing down 125, onto US 50, and up to Poncha Springs.
There were several factions combining to make sure the Murray Ditch’s 12+ cubic feet of water flows without interruption.
The Murray Ditch “mayordomo” is Mike Williams, an energetic 74-year-old retired ironworker. With him was son Daren, a guitar-player and appraiser at the Chaffee County Assessor’s Office.
Saturday’s group totaled 20, ensuring enough workers to keep the day’s work to an acceptable level. No one was making any money, even less when compared to Northern New Mexico’s sub-par daily wage.
Others joining in the work/fun were Brent Petrini, Justin Tanner, Molly Chilson, Stan McFadden, Carol and Ken Ley, Michelle Pujol, Teresa Kossner, Sheila Williams, John Kearley, John and Peggy Barnholt, Dean Metzler, Merle Littlefield, Paul Porter and Andy McFadden.
Mike divided up the workers with assignments to various parts of the Murray Ditch, a Monarch Pass-source-fed flow of the South Arkansas River.
After an obligatory group photo, it was into the vehicles to drive about a mile down the pavement. There the group put on gloves, grabbed pitchforks and shovels and headed upriver in a thus-far water-less canal lined with heavy-barked aging cottonwoods and a few spruce trees.
An Adams State College grad, Brent Petrini, now retired from Xcel, says he had read Crawford’s verde book way back when. He and wife Michelle Pujol were there to ensure they and their neighbors have irrigation water.
While working the ditch, John Kearley remarked that he had lived in Frisco’s Bill’s Ranch with brother Steve back in the early ’90s, while being early-day snowboard “bums” (his word). They shared a log cabin owned by potter Mary Morley.
“Is Mary as pretty as ever?” Mike asked.
Spike! replied in the affirmative, adding he’d seen her at the Frisco Post Office not long ago.
John’s wife is Molly Chilson, a former district attorney currently holding an “assistant DA’s” slot while running again for the top job on the Republican ticket.
Amazing, the things learned cleaning out a ditch.
Up the ditch they raked, pitchforked and shoveled their way westward until they met Daren’s group coming downward, about one mile worth of effort for both teams. At that point we all headed back to the vehicles, spotting a small herd of the ubiquitous deer watching from a short distance.
The volunteers carefully climbed again through the strands of barbed-wire fence, loaded up and moved eastward like the waterflow would do in a week’s time, after “Mayordomo Mike” opens the headgate.
After hitting a few intermittent clogged and weeded areas on the mesa, they called it quits about noon-ish.
Once the Murray starts running, a few volunteers will again check on the acequia’s flow, making sure none of the precious water climbs over the ditch banks and is lost to those with rights. Whether the water makes it to the deeded location, or goes astray, it all is pulled by gravity downward to the aquifer and eventually into the main Arkansas and South Arkansas rivers.
Miles F. Porter IV, nicknamed “Spike,” a Coloradan since 1949, is an Army veteran, former hardrock miner, graduate of Adams State College, and a local since 1982. An award-winning investigative reporter, he and wife Mary E. Staby owned newspapers here for 20 years. Email your social info to firstname.lastname@example.org
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