McKay Lake is located in northeastern Westminster within the 126-acre city-owned McKay Lake Open Space. Situated southeast of the intersection of West 144th Avenue and Zuni Street, the 62-acre lake is surrounded by open fields, cottonwood and willow trees, and modern residential subdivisions. This is the second largest body of water in Westminster, dwarfed only by the massive Standley Lake.
Earthen dams stretching along its northeastern and southern shores retain the lake, making this a water storage reservoir rather than a natural lake. For this reason, it was known throughout much of its history as McKay Reservoir.
This lake was originally associated with farmer Albert M. McKay. Born in Missouri in 1860, Albert was the child of Joseph and Elvina McKay. The family, including Albert and at least seven of his siblings, moved west to Colorado by 1864 and settled in the countryside outside of Denver (possibly in the vicinity of Westminster). During the early 1880s, Albert was in his 20s, single, living with his parents and working as a farmer. In October 1888, he secured a homestead on agricultural land in the area of today’s McKay Lake. Albert appears to have operated this farm for about 10 years. Although he married, Albert does not appear to have had any children and was left alone following the death of his wife. By the late 1890s, he was living in the Highlands neighborhood of northwest Denver. Between 1920 and 1930, Albert lived alone in downtown Denver boarding houses while working as a street vendor and restaurant cook. Albert McKay is presumed to have constructed the reservoir that bears his family name and would have used its water for irrigation during the late 1800s.
In 1909, McKay Reservoir became part of the North Denver Municipal Irrigation District, which coordinated irrigation for a vast area north of the city. The lake was fed from the northwest by way of a one mile-long lateral that originated from the Community (Equity) Ditch. This lateral crosses under 144th Avenue today, and is visible in the cottonwood grove along the lake’s northern shore. Excess water from the lake is discharged through an outlet and spillway along the northeast dam. Below the dam, water collects in a small pond/wetland area before heading eastward along a discharge channel that extends beyond Huron Street.
Public access to the northern area of the lake is found at a small parking lot located along the south side of West 144th Avenue at Tejon Street. From the northern parking lot, an unpaved nature trail takes visitors through the woods, wetlands and wildlife habitat along the north side of the lake. This trail terminates at a floating pier that provides fishing access and an excellent view of the lake and mountains to the west. The McKay Lake Trail also offers visitors a 1.5-mile walk around the lake’s perimeter.
Prior to being acquired by the City of Westminster in 2000, McKay Lake was owned by the Farmers Reservoir & Irrigation Company (FRICO) and had been used as a fishing and hunting club. The contract called for Westminster to maintain the land as open space and for FRICO to keep the lake filled with water. In 2005, the dam and spillway were rebuilt to bring them up to modern safety and performance standards. The city also acquired additional land to the east and northwest of the lake to increase the amount of open space on the property.
Photo: Courtesy Mike Smith