by Alan Carpenter
The 2001 annual conference of the Colorado Riparian Association was held this October in Glenwood Springs. We opted to hold this year’s conference in Glenwood to focus on the connection between development and the many riparian areas and wetlands in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The conference started on Wednesday afternoon with a field trip to points along the Roaring Fork and two of its tributaries. Our first stop was a site along the Roaring Fork where a dike had been built to protect a landowner’s property from flooding. Unfortunately, the landowner did not first obtain a permit from the Corps of Engineers. An enforcement action ensued, with the result that Bill Johnson of Earth Resource Investigations in Carbondale was hired to develop and implement a river restoration plan for the affected reach. Bill showed us the impressive results of the large construction project that involved moving many cubic yards of gravel and many large rocks that helped stabilize the river banks.
|Riparian vegetation along Brush Creek in Snowmass Village|
We then drove to Snowmass Village where Bill showed us the results of a project designed to reverse the effects of a major channel incision on Brush Creek. A hydrologic mess and an aesthetic eyesore have both been repaired, and the restoration now provides benefits to the community, including access to the creek for handicapped persons. There are still problems with down cutting in Brush Creek just below Snowmass Village, and Bill showed us where the next phase of stream restoration will begin next summer.
|Wetland creation project near Aspen in the Maroon Creek floodplain|
Our next stop was just outside Aspen where Stephen Ellsperman showed us a new and a not so new restoration project along Maroon Creek just west of Aspen. The older project was a wetland created to mitigate for wetland losses. It appeared to be functioning well. The earth-moving crew was at work on the new project when we arrived. This project is a much more complicated undertaking which includes constructing channels and wetlands to convey and treat stormwater. The wetlands will also provide wildlife habitat and create a wildlife corridor that will link nearby protected and undeveloped areas.
|Stormwater conveyance channel, part of constructed wetlands project along Maroon Creek near Aspen|
Our final stop of the day was not really a stop; rather, it was a drive by at Basalt. Jeanne Beaudry and Kristine Crandall of the Roaring Fork Conservancy explained how an initial idea of protecting a small wetland grew into a much larger project that linked the wetland with the Basalt State Wildlife Area on the north side of State Highway 82 and public lands on the south side.
Thursday featured a diverse array of terrific speakers. Jeanne Beaudry followed up on her presentation from the day before and told us the inspiring story of her watershed group and how it has become very successful. The Roaring Fork Conservancy provides an excellent example of how energetic and dedicated leadership, combined with community involvement and a cooperative approach to great projects, can work miracles. Dorthea Ferris is a Pitkin County Commissioner. She gave us her perspective on the importance of riparian areas and wetlands. She noted that baseline data are often lacking for these important areas and that watershed matters are often best addressed via inter-governmental agreements, particularly in cases like the Roaring Fork that runs through three counties, not to mention the state and federal connections. Lisa Tasker of Pitkin County Open Space gave us a summary of the Open Space program. Since its inception in 1990, the program has protected 8,200 acres of land and 9 miles of stream corridor.
|Restored reach of Roaring Fork River. Note lush riparian shrub growth downstream.|
Auden Schendler of Aspen Skiing Company gave us a refreshingly candid account of the significant environmental challenges that the company faces. He recounted examples of how the company is reducing resource use (electricity, fuel and water for snowmaking) and reducing pollution (spilled oil from snowcats, gasoline from snow-mobile engines) while maintaining a profitable business.
Bill Fales is a rancher who lives near Carbondale. He reminded us that the land tenure situation in the west means that ranchers own most of the riparian areas and that even poorly managed ranches might be preferable to ranchettes, subdivisions, homes and parking lots (although Bill is a strong advocate of proper riparian management). Bill pointed out that subdivision limits the management tools that can used in riparian areas. He also stressed that uncontrolled recreation can be just as destructive as uncontrolled grazing in riparian areas.
After lunch, the program continued with Mike Villa of NatureTech Consultant Services who gave us a synopsis of wetland mitigation banking. In particular, he discussed Wet Bank, a new wetland mitigation bank near Gunnison that he helped establish.
Tim Randall of the Bureau of Reclamation talked about dams, dam construction, and dam removal, with particular attention on the Elwha Dam on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Removal of the dam could allow the previous spectacular salmon runs to be re-established. This is a very controversial subject, needless to say.
Dave Theobald of Colorado State University showed us results of some of his growth impact modeling. Dave showed us several possible futures for Colorado, all of which portrayed a state that is quite a bit different from what it is today.
Pat Nelson of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service talked about the Colorado River Fish Recovery Program. This is a long-term, multi-organization endeavor that seeks to recover several listed fish species that live in the Colorado River. Pat discussed several projects near Grand Junction that are providing critical nursery habitat by restoring hydrologic connections with the river via seasonal flooding.
Kathleen Linder of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service gave us a primer on the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, a rodent that has been listed as “threatened” by the USFWS and which has generated much controversy. The mouse is confined to riparian areas and associated wetlands along the Front Range of Colorado and southeastern Wyoming.
Andrea Holland-Sears of the U.S. Forest Service presented a very interesting case study on the restoration of Warren Lake, a peatland in the mountains near Aspen. Results over the first few years have been impressive, illustrating the maxim that in wetland restoration, get the hydrology right and you are well on your way to achieving success.
Our banquet featured the presentation of the excellence in riparian management awards. Mike Luark, a local rancher, and the BLM realty staffs in the Canon City and La Jara Field Offices of Colorado received the awards. For more information, see the companion stories in this issue of Green Line. Following dinner, Bill Travis of the University of Colorado gave us an entertaining and informative lesson on growth in Colorado.
The conference concluded Friday morning with a field trip to Glenwood Canyon lead by Jim Lance of the Colorado Department of Transportation. We walked a 1½ mile length of the bike path along I-70 and saw numerous examples of riparian plantings. It was difficult to believe, even looking at pictures taken during construction, how much the riparian areas between the Colorado River and I-70 have been transformed under Jim’s direction.