VAIL - Sand from Interstate 70 is moving into Gore Creek, smothering bugs and fish in Vail Village's picture-postcard mountain stream. The U.S. Forest Service found that - compared to nearby pristine creeks - Gore Creek had less bugs and shallower water because of the sand, which is covering rocks where fish and bugs lay eggs, and filling pools the fish need to survive, said Brian Healy, biologist for the Forest Service.These critters - and the Gore Creek in general - are needed to sustain Vail's economy, which depends in part on kayaking, fishing and snowmaking, said Caroline Bradford, director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, an Avon-based environmental group.
The sand has moved from the interstate to Black Gore Creek, which flows down Vail Pass, and now into Gore Creek. The Colorado Department of Transportation applies 15,000 tons or more of the I-70 over Vail Pass to try to keep the road from freezing, Bradford said. "There's just sand, so much sand in the (Black Gore Creek)," Bradford said.While groups fighting the sand - including the Forest Service, Watershed Council and others - understand sand is necessary for highway safety, the groups hope to stop it from reaching Gore Creek, she said. The groups built above- and below-ground basins in recent years to collect sand running off the interstate. The basins work well when sand is removed, but Black Gore Creek is filled with sand that piled up before the basins were built.
The goal is to create another collection basin on Black Gore Creek near mile marker 183 to prevent the sand from reaching Gore Creek, which merges with the Black Gore just a short distance downstream from the proposed basin."There's more ecological bang for the buck there than another small basin," Bradford said.RiverRestoration.org - a waterway restoration group - is determining the amount of sand the Gore Creek can handle and still remain healthy. The Watershed Council plans to ask the Department of Transportation to remove whatever amount of sand the stream cannot handle from the proposed basin at mile marker 183, Bradford said.The excessive sand would be removed each year from the basin, which used to be a pond before it filled with sand, Bradford said.While roadway sand is the largest contributor of sediment to the Gore Creek basin surrounding Vail, other sources of pollution exist.Dirt and sand wash into Red Sandstone Creek, another Gore Creek tributary, from the mass of roads in the area and poorly constructed ski runs on the front side of Vail Mountain slide into the water system, Healy said. The sediment from Vail construction projects also often ends up in Gore Creek, Bradford said.The Forest Service plans to continue monitoring the creeks in the basin, while RiverRestoration.org should determine in the coming months how much sand Gore Creek can endure.Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO