Swan River Restoration

The Swan River Restoration Project aims to naturalize more than two miles of the Swan River Valley, which was decimated by historic dredge mining during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A collaborative effort among local, federal, and state agencies, as well as nonprofit partners, Summit County Open Space and Trails is currently leading efforts to reclaim approximately half of this distance on land jointly owned by the County and the Town of Breckenridge. After more than a decade of planning, in 2016 and 2017 over, a half mile of valley floor was restored with a mile-long stream channel and 25 acres of floodplain. Removal of large gravel piles, the residual waste rock from the dredge mining actives, on the remaining areas is ongoing with restoration work expected to occur following these removal activities.

Restored Segment of the Swan River

Swan Sunset

"I visited the Swan River Restoration site this weekend for the first time since before the project was started. My initial perspective on the project was one of skepticism. However, after seeing the amazing transformation, I am now a true believer."  

Carol Northcut - Keystone, Colorado

Swan River Restoration Project Location

The Swan River Restoration Project site, located approximately 11 miles northeast of Breckenridge and sitting at around 9,600 feet in elevation, comprises highly disturbed aquatic and terrestrial environments impacted by historic mining activities that dredged the valley bottom, obliterated the Swan River main stem, and covered the valley floor in barren cobble. In addition to impacts to much of the main stem, the surrounding watershed is impacted by abandoned mining roads and other relict features that further fragment the headwater tributaries (North, South, and Middle forks of the Swan River) and impact water quality. While restoration work is ongoing throughout the watershed, the largest restoration component involves reclaiming approximately three miles of main stem stream that currently lacks surface continuity. In 2016, Reach A was reclaimed to a natural condition, including nearly one mile of channel and 30 acres of riparian and upland habitat.

Swan River Restoration Project Location
Swan River Restoration Reaches

Reach A Restoration

Reach A restoration efforts reclaimed over 60 acres of valley floor on County & Town-owned Open Space. In doing so, the work accomplished the following:

  • Replaced approximately one half mile of stream channel confined to a roadside ditch, with approximately one mile of new meandering stream.
  • Established year-round flows in the channel and created a 65 foot wide native riparian corridor.  
  • Restored over 16 acres of riparian and upland habitat.
  • Provided a series of 22 pools, riffles, and glides to create a diversity of aquatic habitat for fish, insects, and a healthy self sustaining ecosystem.
  • Created new trails and trailheads for non-motorized recreation, fishing access, and aesthetic enjoyment.
  • To facilitate completion of the first 1-mile section of this restoration project, approximately 63,300 cubic yards of excess gravel was exported from the restoration site for beneficial reuses elsewhere in Summit County.    

Restored Reach A Looking East Towards Continental Divide



Swan Oblique 2015 - Google


West Oblique 2016 - Zach Mahone Photot


West View Oblique

Fish Survey in Reach A Channel Bend


Swan River Fishery

One of the long term project goals is to restore a Colorado River cutthroat trout population to the Swan River main stem. Currently, cutthroat trout are isolated to the North Fork of the Swan River by a natural fish barrier, which prevents the upstream migration of brook trout. Though restoring a cutthroat trout population is a long term goal, annual fishery surveys reveal a healthy brook trout fishery and burgeoning mottled sculpin fishery are becoming established. Below are recent fish survey reports completed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. 

Swan River Reach B Restoration

Building on the success of the Reach A restoration, Reach B restoration aims to reclaim the immediately upstream segment to a similar naturalized condition. Reach B restoration will naturalize 4,800 lineal feet of channel, 6.3 acres of riparian floodplain, create two acres of wetlands, and 13.3 acres of uplands. Though the new stream channel will support a thriving population of native mottled sculpin, as well as brook and brown trout, it will also advance a broader project goal of restoring a Colorado River cutthroat trout population to the watershed.

Restoration construction is anticipated to commence in 2021.

Gravel Removal on Reach B & Restored Reach A

Swam Rach A & B Aerial

A naturalized valley condition provides greatly enhanced fish and wildlife habitat, as well as educational and recreational opportunities. As the project is ongoing, and many locations are fragile or potentially dangerous, we ask the public to respect posted closures. Additional information about the Swan River Restoration Project is available at Restore the Swan River, the Swan River Restoration Project Blog, and in the documents below: