The Blue Mesa Reservoir, located in the upper reaches of the Gunnison River in Gunnison County, is the largest lake located entirely within the state. It was created by the construction of the Blue Mesa Dam, a 390-foot tall earthen fill dam constructed in 1966 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Originally intended to generate hydroelectric power, the Bureau of Reclamation intended to impound the Gunnison when constructing the Dam, but the developing and management of recreational facilities was left to the National Park Service.
The reservoir’s genesis is tied to the dam’s creation; in 1956, the Colorado River Storage Project Act spawned the planning and construction of the Colorado River Storage Project—the CRSP. This series of projects, located primarily in Colorado, but also in New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, were designed to facilitate the comprehensive development of the Colorado River and its major tributaries. This brought CRSP to the Gunnison River—the fifth largest tributary of the Colorado River.
Four dams were to be built on a 40-mile stretch of the river east of Black Canyon. These projects were meant to control the amount of water flowing into the Colorado River, as well as to create opportunities for flood control, water storage, and the generation of hydroelectric power. Blue Mesa Dam was the first of these dams to be built, breaking ground in 1962 and finishing in 1966.
A unit of the Curecanti National Recreation Area, the Blue Mesa Reservoir offers plentiful opportunities for recreation—from boating and fishing to camping and horseback riding, the area is a major attraction for Colorado residents and visitors alike.