Restoring the Gore, one step at a time
- Don’t dump anything into a storm drain, ever.
- Stay on designated trails and never trample through vegetation along the creek.
- Dispose of waste in proper containers.
- Be mindful of the impacts you could have on the creek.
- Join the bike path cleanup on Sunday, June 11. The volunteer cleanup, hosted by the Eagle River Watershed Council, begins at the Ford Amphitheater at 8:30 a.m. Breakfast will be served.
Vail’s Gore Creek is an impaired stream that is failing to meet the EPA’s Clean Water Act standards
Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by the Town of Vail
At first glance, Gore Creek may appear pristine, which is why it’s shocking that everything from toxic paint, cement, cooking grease, drywall dust and putrid food have been poured down the storm drains that flow into Gore Creek.
“People don’t realize that pouring into the storm drain is basically the same as pouring directly into the creek,” said Peter Wadden, watershed education coordinator for the Town of Vail. “Storm drains are different from sanitary sewers — they flow directly into the creek, unfiltered.”
Vail’s only major tributary might look pristine, but there are continuing signs of decreased health. Gore Creek is on the Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s list of impaired waterways. It’s also not meeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards under the Clean Water Act.
One of the main issues is that Gore Creek’s macroinvertebrates, or little insects, are on the decline. These bugs — specifically mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies — are an important food source for trout, birds and each other, influencing the overall health of the entire creek and everything that lives in it.
The town’s Gore Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan identified three causes for the decline of the insects: loss of riparian habitat; pollutants from urban runoff; and impacts from land use activities.
“They’re a really crucial foundation of the ecosystem and the food chain,” Wadden said. “They’re also the most susceptible to pollution and the first to disappear when something impacts a body of water.”
What’s causing the declining insect populations?
As the town of Vail has urbanized and expanded since its founding in 1966, forest and wetlands have been replaced with impervious surfaces such as sidewalks, driveways, streets and rooftops. Contaminants that run across these hard surfaces flow toward the creek at a much faster pace, picking up more sediment and pollutants along the way, Wadden said.
In 2016, the Town of Vail adopted a Gore Creek Strategic Action Plan with about 220 specific action items. They include stream bank restoration projects to improve the riparian areas around the creek, which act as buffer zones and filter runoff water, as well as education and outreach, data collection and monitoring, rules and regulations, better management practices and other site-specific projects.
Holly Loff, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, said stream health is an issue in many urbanized mountain communities, not just Vail. She said the blame can’t be placed on any one cause and instead uses the phrase “death by 1,000 cuts.”
The sum of so many small impacts is creating a very large problem, she said.
“People feel overwhelmed to learn that they might be having an impact,” she said. “Everyone can play a role in improving the health of Gore Creek.”
A common misperception, especially among local residents, is that traction sand used on I-70 is to blame for stream health issues, Wadden said.
“But bug populations on Black Gore Creek are still healthy,” he said, adding that negative stream impacts are seen in developed areas that aren’t near a major highway, such as Red Sandstone Creek.
How to make a difference
Vail residents and visitors have countless opportunities to make positive impacts and also reduce negative ones. Town of Vail Environmental Sustainability Manager Kristen Bertuglia said residents can make a difference by not mowing their properties near the creek.
“This is one of the most important things they can do as stewards of the environment, as it reduces erosion, pollutants, and the need for chemicals, while creating wildlife habitat,” she said. “They can also make sure that they reduce the use of pesticides, read the labels to check to see if they are toxic to aquatic insects, and ensure that no overhead tree foliar spraying is done within 100 feet of the creek.”
Wadden hopes the outreach can also help change people’s perceptions about what beautiful landscaping looks like. Kentucky bluegrass needs a lot of chemical assistance at 8,150 feet, for example, so it’s better to plant vegetation that is more natural to this environment, he said.
Loff said allowing native plants to grow close to the stream, as well as choosing natural fertilizers and hebicides, have positive impacts.
“They’re all little tiny changes we can make to our lives,” she said. “Gore Creek is a beautiful mountain stream and it can be