Blue River restoration to improve fish habitat |

Blue River restoration to improve fish habitat

Jane Stebbins/Special to the Daily

Heavy equipment operators have spent the past few months carving out and lining a new channel along a 1,500-foot stretch in the Blue River between County Road 3 and the Four Mile Bridge across the highway from the Tiger Run RV Park.

By the time work is done, the Blue River will no longer be a straight shot through the dredge rock piles that lie on the west side of Highway 9, but will instead snake through the parcel much like it probably did before dredge boats ate their way up the valley.

Work will involve moving dredge rocks, stabilizing the channel, building pools, riffles and spawning areas, vegetating the stream banks to prevent erosion and creating wetlands in areas in some of the area where the Blue River now runs.

The goal is to provide a healthier ecosystem for insects, which in turn will create more viable fish habitat, said Summit County open space and trails planner Brian Lorch.

Riffles will be built to provide a gradual descent down the valley rather than one large waterfall. Pools ranging from 4 to 5 feet in depth, will also be built along the river with coarse gravel at the tail end of each pool to encourage fish spawning.

The eastern border of the parcel will be restored as an upland meadow with a gradual slope to the floodplain. Additionally, the area will be built to accommodate floodwaters, and thus more accurately mimic nature.

Currently, workers are digging out new channels and lining them with a fabric that will decompose over time as vegetation takes hold. Lorch said that method is preferable to those that use big boulders, as the town of Breckenridge did when it reconstructed the river through town in the early 1990s.

“That’s a more engineered technique,” Lorch said. “It works, it provides habitat, it’s scenic. You look at it and think, “Yeah, somebody put together a river.’ Here, you think this is what the river should look like. It’s a fish habitat. It doesn’t look like a built river.”

The county’s Open Space and Trails Department heads up the project. The Colorado Division of Water quality granted $227,400 toward the project, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Fishing is Fun program contributed another $115,000.

A large pile of dredge rocks will remain on an acre of land near a new highway pulloff where people can stop to read interpretive signs about the dredge mining.

Recreational pathways will meander around the wetlands and to the river’s banks.

Over the next three years, workers will monitor the project to ensure the channel remains stable and vegetation is taking hold. Ultimately, the county wants to see a viable and healthy stream channel, wetland, floodplain and upland habitat.

Project planners also expect beavers to try to make dams and elk to browse the willows.

If beavers build dams along a riffle crest before vegetation becomes established, their work could divert the stream and potentially degrade the entire project. Wildlife officials hope the beavers will use the existing channel, but admit it is unlikely.

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