Restoration, education projects on Vail’s Gore Creek will take time | VailDaily.com

Restoration, education projects on Vail’s Gore Creek will take time

Fish shocking — which stuns fish but leaves them unharmed — is one way to measure fish populations. Those populations, along with the number of bugs those fish eat, are ways to measure the health of streams.

VAIL — Pete Wadden is starting to see a change in opinions about Gore Creek. Altering the stream's health for the better is a longer-term project.

Wadden leads the town of Vail's education efforts in its multi-year Restore the Gore project. That project is actually a number of projects, the offshoot of the creek's 2013 inclusion on the state of Colorado's list of "impaired waterways."

While the creek looks like a pristine stream, there's been a marked decline in insect life, which affects the fish population. That decline is due to everything from road sand to landscaping to chemical use to storm runoff and more. That means improving the creek's health will require a number of fixes.

One of those fixes includes educating people about the status of the creek and how they can help improve its health. That effort has included setting up an information booth at events ranging from the Burton U.S. Open Snowboard Championships to the Vail Farmers Market to the town's summer picnics for residents.

"I've begun to see people's understanding change," Wadden told the Vail Town Council at its Tuesday meeting. "More people know about the issues."

Actual work on those issues has taken years to develop. This year, work will start on a project at the Interstate 70 interchange in East Vail. That project includes landscaping, improved storm drains and other work, all with one basic goal: reducing stormwater and other runoff from getting into the creek.

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The town is also still working on an inventory and repair of its many storm drains, all of which flow directly into the creek.

'Neglected for Years'

While the creek's restoration is a problem with many answers, Vail Town Council member Greg Moffet said those storm drains may have as big an impact as anything else that might be done by the town, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Eagle River Watershed Council, the Colorado Department of Transportation and other agencies.

"The fact that the job of fixing those (drains') filter vaults is as big as it is, is that (the problem) was neglected for years," Moffet said.

Moving ahead, the job will include not just fixing, but maintaining, those storm drains.

"Like any other municipal asset, you've got to spend money on it every year," he said.

Besides finding and fixing the storm drains, other work includes signs and art to inform the public that anything put into a storm drain goes directly to the creek.

At one point last summer, an event vendor put 120 hot dogs into a storm drain — and then fished them out instead of getting an expensive ticket. There will also be informational signs posted near the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens for the benefit of guests and residents.

Education goes much farther than the storm drains, though.

Wadden told the council about a number of monitoring projects taken on by local schools.

Students will monitor the creek for nutrient levels, oxygen levels, stream alkalinity and more. Another monitoring effort will measure fish populations.

All of those efforts can add up, Wadden said.

The payoff, though, will be when measurements of insect life start to show progress. The count is available from 2015, and the 2016 numbers will be available later this year.

But, Moffet said, he expects progress to be relatively slow.

"Taking on all these issues should give us a measurable, positive result," he said. Whatever results come will be the result of a lot of time, money and other resources being poured into the effort.

To learn more, visit http://www.lovevail.org.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

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