As we close the books on 2018, we are reflecting on another successful year for the Swan River Restoration Project. The past year saw the completion of work on Reach A and the continuation of gravel removal from Reach B.
Overall, the project site fared extremely well during its first full year following the completion of major work. All major stream channel features, including pools and riffles, as well as the streambed and banks remain in good condition after two runoff seasons. Minor channel adjustments including erosional and depositional features, such as point bars, are forming as anticipated. The formation of these features mimics normal processes found in any natural high alpine stream.
Upland and riparian plantings also fared extremely well over the last year. Willows are becoming well-established, shooting down roots during their first growing season and stabilizing the banks. Soon, the willows will transfer their energy to upward growth after their “feet” are firmly planted deep in the water.
Trees are also becoming well-established across the Reach A site. Only one tree – a Colorado spruce – died during the first full growing season. This is an excellent success rate among the more than 100 trees planted across the site in 2017. The low mortality rate is likely largely due to selecting specially adapted trees from high elevation nurseries, as well as frequent irrigation during the unseasonably dry and warm summer. The lone tree that did not survive still provides habitat for birds, as a nest is found among its branches.
With a native ground cover becoming established across much of the site, we are seeing habitat formation for a range of species, including nesting ground birds such as the Spotted sand piper. The photo below shows a Spotted sand piper nest with eggs in the newly forming riparian area
Working with Western States Reclamation, we also addressed a few areas of the site where vegetation was not establishing as vigorously. Most notable was a relatively steep, south facing slope where soils were amended to better support plant growth. An additional two acres of the site received a seed and fertilizer application during late summer.
During September, when many of the native grasses in the area were going to seed, the Summit County Community Development department hosted an internal volunteer day where native seeds were collected near Horseshoe Gulch (Tiger Dredge trailhead) and transported upstream to the Reach A site. Seeds collected from plants growing in the same general area as the restoration site are genetically adapted to the unique conditions of the Swan River Valley and have a higher likelihood of successfully germinating on the site compared to native seed species harvested from elsewhere (e.g., a seed farm). Additionally, many of the seeds collected locally are either unavailable commercially, or extremely expensive to purchase. These types are volunteer efforts are extremely helpful in generating a diverse, native plant population across the site.
Gravel removal work also continued on Reach B during 2018 (
above/upstream from the recently completed Reach A restoration site). Schofield Excavation
initiated gravel removal in mid-April and over the summer/fall, removed approximately 75,000 tons of gravel. To date, nearly 260,000 tons of gravel have been removed from the site since work started in earnest in 2016. We estimate that the total amount of gravel removed to date represents approximately 75% of the total amount required to be removed before restoration work can occur on Reach B. In addition to gravel removal, Schofield Excavation continued to import clean soil, a critical material for completing riparian and upland restoration work. Schofield Excavation will process gravel throughout the winter of 2018/2019, but removal operations have ceased for the season. Gravel removal will resume in 2019 as conditions allow and material demand permits.
During October of 2018, the County coordinated with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to conduct a fish survey both within the Reach A restoration site, as well as downstream. This is the second year CPW has collaborated with Summit County to survey the new channel, which coincides with the local trout spawning season. Formal survey results for 2018 will not be available until 2019, but initial observations indicate a healthy fishery is becoming established in the new channel.
This will be the last blog post for 2018, but we will resume posting updates in 2019 as activity begins to ramp back up. Additional information about Swan River Restoration Project is available at RestoreTheSwanRiver.com as well as on the Open Space and Trails Special project webpage. 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 Resource Specialist Jason Lederer, or call 970.668.4060.