CRA Annual Conference Field Trips

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This year’s annual conference featured three field trips near Steamboat Springs. The first was a visit to the Creek

Creek Ranch
Riparian restoration along Trout Creek at the Creek Ranch

Ranch, which is located about 10 miles west of town. We saw an example of a well-conceived and executed riparian restoration project on Trout Creek. The project was designed by Mike and Brenda Mitchell of Queen of the River Consultants in Longmont. Trout Creek had suffered from years of improper management, with the result being eroding stream banks and a broad, shallow channel that was inhospitable for fish. The major goal of the restoration was to improve habitat for fish by narrowing and deepening the channel. Another goal was to reduce erosion from stream banks. We inspected several sites where steep, eroding banks had been graded to a 3:1 slope, then root mats had been excavated with a loader from the insides of meander bends and placed a few yards away on the eroding outside of the same bend. Potted shrubs had also been planted between the root mats. After three years, it was difficult see that anything so dramatic had ever happened. The channel had narrowed and deepened and the banks were stable and not eroding.

 


 Gott property
Track how laying back steep river banks
before transplanting root wads at
Gott property on the Elk River

We then traveled to the Gott property on the Elk River not far upstream from its confluence with the Yampa River. The banks of the Elk on the Gott property were eroding, and the goal of the restoration was to stabilize the eroding banks. When we arrived, a loader was busy excavating cottonwoods and root mats from along the river and placing them along a section where the once-steep banks had been sloped to accommodate the cottonwoods and root mats. In addition, an in-stream structure had been installed to control the grade of the stream bed just below the area where the loaders were working. The Elk River is a much bigger stream than Trout Creek, and it was evident that careful project planning and management are crucial to a successful outcome.

 


 Carpenter Ranch
Lush riparian vegetation on Heim Island at
Carpenter Ranch on the Yampa River

We visited the Carpenter Ranch on Friday. This historic ranch was owned by Ferry Carpenter, who was a leading figure in Routt County prior to his death at age 94 in 1980. The property was purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 1996, and is continuing to be operated as a cattle ranch, as well as an interpretive center where visitors can learn how ranching and land conservation can coexist. Ann Oliver of TNC led us to a spot where the banks of the Yampa River were eroding because the trees and shrubs had had held the banks in place had been removed years ago. She had tested a low-cost approach of planting trees and shrubs on the high bank, but it was not very successful. Due to the presence of gravel under the banks, it was not possible to excavate planting holes that extended to the seasonal low point of the water table. It demonstrated the necessity of having the roots of the trees and shrubs in contact with the ground water. Then we walked to Hein Island, which is surrounded by the Yampa River and sloughs that are old river channels. The island is wonderful place of cottonwoods, box-elders, red-osier dogwood, and willows. It is not used for livestock grazing, but elk graze the island.