If you've visited the Swan River Valley recently, you might have noticed that the Reach A restoration site is greening up nicely! After a rather dry start to the summer, recent monsoon moisture has sent the native grasses into frenzy. What a difference a couple of years makes…
Late last week, Summit County’s design-build team of Ecological Resource Consultants/Tezak Heavy Equipment (ERC/Tezak) re-mobilized to the project site to complete the remaining re-vegetation work. Riparian and upland planting work on Reach A is supported primarily by grant funds from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (both important agency project partners). For the next few days, crews from ERC/Tezak’s subcontractor, Western State Reclamation, will be installing literally thousands of plants across the site.
The primary plantings are willow species, which are being installed along the river banks. Willows are critical for naturally stabilizing the banks, especially along the outside edge of the channel bends (referred to as cut banks) where erosive forces are typically the strongest.
Of the more than 2,300 willow shrubs being planted, 1,200 are derived from willow cuttings harvested downstream from the restoration site this past spring. Willows are an incredibly resilient genus, and fresh cuttings planted in soil under the right conditions can grow into entirely new plants. This project is using four willow species including, Booth’s, Drummond’s, Geyer’s, and Park.
Upland shrub and tree species are also being installed across the site. Species include two types of sagebrush (big and silver), woods rose, 6 and 8-foot-tall Colorado blue spruce, and one-inch, two-inch, and three-inch-caliper single and multi-stem quaking aspen. One of the biggest challenges of restoration re-vegetation work is ensuring plants are adaptable to the nuances of the local climate. The Swan River Valley’s high elevation and exposure can be particularly harsh, so selecting appropriate plant materials is critically important. Wherever possible, nursery plants were raised in comparable conditions and climates to the Swan River Valley in order to best prepare them for what the site and Mother Nature has in store for them. Initially, the Summit County Open Space and Trails Department (OST) is irrigating the new plantings regularly while they are becoming established and adapted to their new home.
The Reach A restoration site remains in a fragile condition while vegetation becomes established. We understand the temptation to explore the area, but ask that everyone please respect the posted closures. Once the site stabilizes, we look forward to restoring public access for hiking, fishing, and overall enjoyment.
Gravel removal work on Reach B (above/upstream from the recently completed Reach A restoration site) has been underway for just over a month. Schofield Excavation is already making tremendous progress processing and removing dredge rock. As work advances, Schofield will also begin importing and placing suitable soil for the riparian and upland restoration areas; rough grading the future stream channel, riparian, and upland areas; and producing materials required for constructing channel, riparian, upland, and floodplain features.
Reach B is currently an active construction site and, for safety and operations reasons, no public access is permitted unless specifically authorized by Summit County, and/or the Schofield Excavation.
Over the last week, OST hosted two site visits. One site visit was with an Ecological Restoration Case Studies undergraduate course from Colorado State University (CSU). As a component to the course, students participate in a week-long field trip around Colorado to learn about the complexities of planning, implementing, and monitoring different kinds of restoration projects. Professor Tony Cheng, Director of the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute and Professor at the CSU Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, enthusiastically included the Swan River Restoration Project into the lesson plan, as it is an ideal fit with class learning objectives.
The other site visit was with members of the Summit County Garden Club. The club works to educate their members and the community about gardening in Summit County and the ongoing large-scale restoration effort in the Swan River Valley has certainly caught their attention.
Additional information about Swan River Restoration Project is available at RestoreTheSwanRiver.com as well as on the Open Space and Trails Special Projects web page. If you have additional questions about the restoration project, you can contact Summit County Open Space and Trails Director Brian Lorch, or Open Space and Trails Senior Resource Specialist Jason Lederer, or call 970.668.4060.