EAGLE COUNTY — If you were familiar with the Eagle River’s “Duck Pond” area before Saturday, you may not recognize it the next time you see it.
Helping out with Vail Resorts Echo’s latest project, a team of 225 to 250 volunteers worked swiftly and efficiently to transform the area from an neglected parcel of open space to a sustainable recreation area along the Eagle River.
In about three hours, the group was able to plant 250 trees along the Eagle River and remove approximately 60 cubic yards of noxious weeds from the open space parcel, which is popular with hunters and anglers.
The end goal is to have the property equipped with picnic tables, a public restroom, lights at night, and a boat launch and takeout.
“I think people will jump in at the bridge in Gypsum with a six pack, get in their tube and float down to here,” said Kara Heide, the executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust. “That’s what I’d do. It’s not really an exciting rafting stretch, but it’s a good float and there’s great fishing here.”
Fishing under a shade tree
During fishing season, the trout are usually active on the winding stretch of the river along the Duck Pond. But as we saw this summer, water temps can get unpleasantly warm for fish at that section of the Eagle River, near its end, making fishing that area dangerous for the future of the fishery.
“When the willows (planted Saturday) grow, the shade will keep the water cooler,” said Heide. “They grow like a weed, so it’s going to happen quick.”
In addition to Vail Resorts Echo and the Eagle Valley Land Trust, Saturday’s effort was assisted by Eagle County’s Open Space and Eco Trails departments.
“We’ve been planning this for six months so it’s not just wasting time, so the outcome has impact,” said Heide. “We created teams, we had nametags with numbers, and they were all focused with team leaders.”
Walking through the various work lines set up Saturday, one would hear the steady hum of shovels hitting dirt and construction vehicles moving about — and hardly any socializing — as the workers were centered on the task at hand.
Three “zones” were set up on the nearly 50-acre property with seven to eight tasks assigned to each zone. Tasks included items like “install root barrier” and “dig weeds/spread top soil/seed,” with some tasks divided into highly organized subsections.
“We planted trees along the river, finished that project, went on to pulling out sage and raked it up into piles, and they’re bringing in the backfill now,” volunteer Dano Bruno said Saturday. “We’ll finish this and then move on to another project.”
Bruno, an expert boot fitter, works as an independent contractor with Vail Resorts.
“I got the email and rallied the family,” he said with a gesture toward his wife, Susan, a teacher in Eagle County, and their children Liam, 12, and Ariana, 9.
“We really encourage parents to bring the kids on everything we do, because we’re trying to pay it forward, and we’re trying to introduce them to the culture,” Heide said.
For Todd Ruoff, Vail Mountain’s lift electric manager, the day was a chance to spend some time with his daughter, 12-year-old Alex. The two unclogged a culvert which had fallen into disrepair, the mouth of which was filled with large rocks.
“It took us three hours,” he said.
‘Protect the promise’
Jason Denhart with the land trust said a big work day like Saturday was necessary for the large-scale impact of the project.
“Now it’s not going to be so daunting as we move forward in the future,” Denhart said Saturday. “This was organized by Vail Resorts, but the people who show up are just people who love their environment and who are here to work. That’s one of the many reasons we’re so happy to be able to work with Vail Resorts Echo on events like this.”
In the coming weeks, the land trust will encumber the Duck Pond with a conservation easement, in an effort to preserve the area in the future.
“The easement is a perpetual restriction on development, so after we’re dead and gone, nobody can undo this,” said Heide. “We’re the enforcement agency to protect the promise ... it’s now it is our responsibility to protect the property and the terms, the land trust will be required to monitor and make sure that the promise is kept and the conservation values that we said would be conserved are being conserved.”