by Denis Hall
When the Colorado Riparian Association awarded Calvin Campbell its Landowner of the Year Award at the Annual Conference last fall, it did so in recognition of the highest standards of private sector riparian stewardship. Campbell’s work in the North Fork Valley of the Gunnison River brings together a broad range of public participation with the goal of restoring the North Fork to a stable, functional riverine system.
Cal explained, “we started a community-based, grass-roots effort to improve the North Fork of the Gunnison. We organized to get things done as a group instead of working individually on our own properties, or not trying to improve the river at all. At the time, everyone was doing things that adversely affected the river, damaging more property and creating more erosion every year.”
Cal was a founder of the North Fork Improvement Association, a cross-section of ranchers, agricultural interests, gravel pit owners, and environmentalists. “Our whole focus from the beginning was to sell the community on the project,” said Cal. “We realized we had to work with everyone, and that everyone is important, including gravel pit operators. Gravel mining is an important part of the economy, so we have to find some way to still mine gravel and maintain the type of river system we want. Then it becomes win/win.”
“Now we have an organized group and has been able to secure some grant funding to start getting things done,” Cal said. Grant funding has so far paid for a detailed survey of river characteristics such as width/depth ratio, sinuosity and gradient, etc. “We’re following Dave Rosgen’s methods,” continued Cal. “Two members of our group became interested in the concept and details of improving the river, and in improving the valley in general.”
Summer 1998 work on the project depends on continued funding, according to Cal. “We have funding for an even more detailed and concise survey for a pilot project on a reach between Paonia and Hotchkiss.” Cal said the group hasn’t finalized the location of the project, but that it would probably entail a “W” weir near an irrigation ditch diversion. “If the pilot works,” said Cal, “we’ll go after funding to complete the rest of the reach.”
Historically, work at North Fork diversions entailed bulldozing loose gravel and installing rip-rap, all of which were made ineffective at next run-off. “A permanent weir,” said Cal, “would reduce maintenance for the ditch company, having to go in every summer and push loose gravel up from the stream bed.”
Cal stressed the pilot project would be as much a community education project as anything. “Rosgen’s methods of repairing a stream are well known to people in riparian work,” he said. “But to the general public, if you mention Rosgen or fluvial morphology, they just don’t have any concept of it. Previously, to fix the river they’d put three bulldozers in there and make a canal out of it. There are better ways, and ways you can actually gain property.”
Cal’s work goes beyond just private property stewardship. The rancher’s work on his 13,000 acre Terror Creek Grazing Allotment has been praised by Forest Service land managers. “We haven’t focused specifically on riparian areas because they weren’t degraded to a point beyond which we couldn’t tweak a few things about cattle movement and timing,” he said. “The improvement we’re seeing is kind of a bonus to some of the things we’re trying to achieve.” Cal uses temporary instead of hard fencing, more water developments and more riding to redistribute cattle.
Colorado State Soil Conservation Board member Carl Zimmerman said of Cal’s efforts: “I would say that Cal is the motivating force behind the creation and progress of the North Fork Improvement Association. They are on the cutting edge of working cooperatively to treat resource problems. We’re seeing people working cooperatively at a number of levels and that’s where we’ll see successes. It’s the solution to shedding the mandatory or regulatory approach that has been only minimally successful in the past.”
Calvin Campbell would say stewardship is its own reward. There will be another reward, though, when the next generation of North Fork Valley children are able to live in a river valley touched by Cal’s vision.