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Project partners unveil restored river valley, reclaimed from dredge mining
Contact: Jason Lederer, Summit County Open Space & Trails, 970-668-4213
Summit County – More than a century after dredge boats destroyed and abandoned the Swan River, Summit County officially opened the first segment of the newly revived stream corridor to the public. A grand opening hosted by the Summit County Board of Commissioners celebrated the restoration of more than 35 acres of reclaimed dredge mine on the Swan River Open Space, jointly owned by Summit County and the Town of Breckenridge.
The restored site contains over a mile of new stream channel, riparian area, floodplain and restored uplands. A new mile-long trail provides access for hiking, biking, angling, skiing, snowshoeing and other non-motorized uses.
“We are extremely grateful for the community’s support of this exciting project, and we appreciate everyone's patience for this long-awaited opening,” Summit County Resource Specialist Jason Lederer said. “Though the site is now open to the public, visitors should respect posted closures, as restoration activities are ongoing, and several areas remain in a fragile condition.”
Summit County has a long and prolific mining history. Several valleys in southern Summit County’s Upper Blue River watershed, including the Swan River Valley, were dredge mined for precious metals. Deep scars from this mining past are found throughout valleys where dredge boats sucked up sediment from depths of up to 70 feet, casting aside gravel and other material in pursuit of gold. Today, vast expanses of dredge gravel piles remain.
Prior to restoration, the Swan River site provided little in the way of ecological, recreational or aesthetic values. Much of the valley floor was covered with giant piles of barren cobble. What little remained of the stream channel followed a straight ditch paralleling Tiger Road, where flows would only occur during periods of high water, remaining subsurface for much of the year. Recreational and wildlife value was almost non-existent, despite the three forks of the Swan River upstream of the site serving as extremely popular year-round recreation areas.
“When the County and Town purchased land in the Swan River Valley, our goals were to support our project partners in restoring the natural ecology of the stream and enhancing recreational opportunities,” Summit County Open Space and Trails Director Brian Lorch said. “A large part of the overall project’s success and why we are at this point today is a direct result of strong partnerships with numerous stakeholders and the support we receive from those in our community who care so much about this special place.”
Involvement, collaboration and support from members of the public, state and local agencies and private entities have all been vital to the project planning efforts. In addition to the County and Town, active participants in the project planning and funding include the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Trout Unlimited, Blue River Watershed Group and Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.
The project team aimed to create a natural and stable river channel meandering through a mosaic of wetland, riparian and upland habitats, similar to what would have existed prior to dredge mining. The restored channel and adjacent areas provide a variety of habitat features for fish, mammals, insects and other native species. The restored site also provides water quality benefits.
“These types of projects serve as important buffers between our forests and water storage and delivery systems,” said Chris Sturm, stream restoration coordinator with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. "I believe streams well connected to floodplains will help mitigate potential debris flows in the event of a fire higher in the watershed.”
The project is funded through a variety of public funds and grant sources. The total restoration costs hover at about $2.5 million, the majority of which was covered by grants.
“We are grateful to the many partners who placed their trust in us to make good use of their significant and generous funding,” Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said. “Their generosity is instrumental in amplifying the reach of the Summit County Open Space Program fund and other voter-approved sources.”
As a multiphase restoration effort, work is ongoing upstream of the recently restored site, with similar reclamation and restoration goals. The County has entered into a lease agreement with a mining contractor who pays a royalty to the County on all material leaving the site. The royalties are being reinvested into the ongoing restoration work.
The County’s mining contractor is also providing in-kind services, including rough grading of the new channel, as well as the necessary aggregate and soil necessary for the final restoration. The County does not yet have an estimated timeline for upstream restoration, but significant progress has already been made removing the large dredge gravel piles previously covering the site.
For more information, contact Jason Lederer of the Summit County Open Space and Trails Department at 970-668-4213 or email@example.com.