Volume 12, Number 2 Summer 2001

A Team Approach to Riparian Restoration and Enhancement on the Creek Ranch

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by Bill Chace, Riverkeeper, Steamboat Springs

 


 Photo 1
A 330 Hitachi track hoe transplanting a large willow. The banks on the outside bend of the stream have been graded and 4′ x 8′ vegetative mats are being installed.
 Photo 2
A five-cubic yard Volvo loader harvesting 4′ x 8′ willow| sedge mats. Mat harvest areas are filled with 8 to 10 inches of topsoil and the last mat harvested is placed at the mouth of the harvest area.
 Photo 3
Spring 1999 — An outside bend of Trout Creek on beat #3. This area exhibits vertical eroded banks, poor width/depth ratio and poor riffle/pool ratio.
 Photo 4
Summer 2000 — An outside bend of Trout Creek on beat #3 after machine installation of rock vanes, transplanted willows and willow/sedge mats. Decreased width/depth and pool/riffle ratios are evident.
 Photo 5
Fall 1999 — A willow/ sedge mat harvest area, which was refilled with topsoil harvested from the outside bend of Trout Creek. The last mat harvested is placed in the mouth of the harvest area.
 Photo 6
Summer 2000 — The same mat harvest area 9 months later. The area was reseeded and planted with 1-quart size willows and alders, which have established quickly.
 Photo 7
Spring 1999 — The creeks outside bend exhibits a 12′ high vertical eroded bank with poor width/depth ratio.
 Photo 8
Summer 2000 — The same area, after grading and blending in with the adjacent slope. Log overlap structures and rock habitat structures have been installed.
Willows and alders have been transplanted by machine and disturbed areas have been reseeded with columbian sharptail grouse seed mixture. Note the dramatic change in the width/depth ratio.
 Photo 9
May 1999 — An outside bend of Trout Creek on beat #4. This is characterized by 3 to 4 ft vertical, eroded banks, poor width/depth ratio and a poor riffle/ pool ratio.
 Photo 10
July 2000 — Outside bend on beat #4 14 months later after installation of transplanted alders and willow/sedge mats. The installation of “J” vanes decreased the width/depth ratio and added in stream cover for trout.

In the winter of 1998 Creek ranch owner; Brent Romick put together a multi disciplinary team of private sector and agency professionals to create a systems-based plan for the restoration and enhancement of three miles of the channel and adjacent riparian areas of Trout Creek in Routt County. The Trout Creek flows into the Yampa River near Milner which is located about 10 miles west of Steamboat Springs.

The team consisted of Mike and Brenda Mitchell, Queen of the River Fisheries Consultants; Rusty and John McKee, Water Way Restorations Inc.; Pat Davey, Ed Nielsen and Mark Lane of the Natural Resources Conservation Service; Elizabeth Miller DistrictWildlife Manager, Colorado Division of Wildlife; Randy Mandel, Sky DeBoer and Jim Redmond of Rocky Mountain Native Plants; Mark Lanier, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Bill Chace, Riverkeeper.

The restoration and enhancement plan targeted riparian plant community enhancement, riverbank stabilization, wetlands delineation, in-stream fish habitat improvements, fisheries management, grazing management and resource stewardship.

The riparian restoration and enhancement component of the plan was divided into three phases, which dovetailed with the fisheries habitat improvements:

Phase 1 — Includes machine transfer and installation of alders, second growth willows and mats of vegetation containing alders, willows, sedges and rushes.

Phase 2 — Includes contouring, reseeding and mulching of areas disturbed by construction.

Phase 3 — Includes planting of site specific and species-specific nursery stock.

 


Phase 1 — Machine Transfer of Vegetation
A 330 class track hoe and a 5-cubic yard, rubber tired loader were utilized to restore the mass-wasting creek banks. Here are the highlights:

  1. Creek banks were graded to a 3 to 1 grade.
  2. Topsoil that was removed by the grading process was stockpiled for later utilization in the mat harvest areas.
  3. Alders and willows were transplanted into the riverbank by track hoe.
  4. The rubber tired loader harvested plant mats (4’x 8′) in size from adjacent point bars for transplantation into the restored, outside river bend areas.
  5. The willow and alder harvest areas received 8 to 10 inches of topsoil after which their openings were blocked with the last mat harvested.
  6. Mat harvest areas were reseeded with stream bank wheatgrass, American sloughgrass, bluejoint reedgrass, fowl bluegrass, and Kentucky bluegrass.

 


Phase 2- Contouring, Reseeding and Mulching

  1. All disturbed areas were graded by machine or hand.
  2. The Colorado Division of Wildlife provided a special seed mix for Columbian Sharptail Grouse. The mix contains tall wheatgrass, bluebunch wheatgrass, cicer milkvetch, orchardgrass, wyeth buckwheat, Lewis blue flax, alfalfa, and big bluegrass.
  3. Most seed was raked in and mulched. Project completion occurred on Nov. 18, 1999. Subsequent snowstorms prevented the mulching of some seeded areas.

 


Phase 3- Planting Container Nursery Stock

  1. Seeds from site-specific thin leaf alder were harvested in the fall of 1999 by Rocky Mountain Native Plants. R.M.N.P. propagated 2000 of these in 10 cu. in. containers.
  2. 6500 thin leaf alders, whiplash willow and Drummond willow were provided in 1 quart and 1 gallon containers.
  3. The plants were installed by a planting team from R.M.N.P. at 2 to 3 ft. intervals for the entire three-mile length of the Trout Creek restoration area.
  4. A number of the 10 cu. in. site-specific alders were planted in the mat harvest areas for future transplantation.

 


Results
Machine transfer of woody shrubs and mats proved to be quite successful and extremely cost effective. Both the shrubs and mats were harvested after they became dormant. Survival rates for shrubs and mats exceeded 95%. Losses of shrubs were attributed to planting them too close to the water table, and losses of mats or sections of mats were attributable to placing them too far from the water table. The success and cost effectiveness of this operation is attributable to the solid design of the bank stabilization structures, Queen of The River’s riparian insights and the consummate skill and experience of Water Way Restorations Inc. In total over 3000 feet of Trout Creeks’ channel received this treatment. The photos document the results.

The contouring and reseeding of disturbed areas was for the most part successful. Areas that were seeded but not mulched, due to heavy snowfall did not do as well as mulched areas. Harrowing, reseeding and mulching of these areas is a part of yearly stewardship activities.

The planting of container, nursery stock was momentus. Our conversations with a gentleman whose family owned the property in the 1940’s indicated that the land use practices of that era included removal of as many willows, alders and other riparian plants as possible. He stated, “We spent lots of time and money trying to remove these willows, now you are putting them back in.” We were impressed with the quality of root systems on the willows and alders that were obtained from Rocky Mountain Native Plants. The R.M.N.P. planting crew carefully placed these plants so that they would best benefit from our restoration efforts.

The Creek Ranch would like to thank all of the partners in this project. Their efforts in data collection, planning, technical assistance, funding and construction assured that the project would be successful.