Blue Trail website for rivers nearly ready
EAGLE COUNTY — The county’s rivers are an important part of life here. The American Rivers group believes our rivers can play an even more important role.
American Rivers is a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C. The group runs a program called Blue Trail. It is an effort to give the public more information about rivers and streams. That effort now includes four rivers in South Carolina and one in Arizona. And in the next several weeks, the group plans to launch a Blue Trail website dedicated to the Eagle and upper Colorado rivers through Eagle County.
Jessica Foulis is working on the Eagle River project for American Rivers. At a recent State of the River meeting in Edwards, Foulis said the national group picked these rivers for their recreational appeal and ecological values. The project is mostly about using information already available from a number of local groups including Walking Mountains Science Center, the Eagle River Watershed Council and the county’s open space program.
COMMUNITY DRIVEN CONTENT
The idea, Foulis said, is that the “community drives the content” available on the site. That content can include environmental information, but it will highlight recreational information including available boat ramps and where to access the river for fishing, floating and other uses.
“People can plan their trips (using the website),” Foulis said.
In an interview following her presentation, Foulis said work is still being done to determine what kind of content will be available. One likely option is an interactive feature to point out new and persistent river hazards.
Doug Serrill, the projects and events coordinator for the Eagle River Watershed Council, said the Blue Trail idea is worthwhile.
“What (Foulis) is proposing to do online doesn’t exist right now,” Serrill said. “It would help locals and tourists find more resources.”
The broad-based approach of a Blue Trail website can do more than just provide a recreational resource, Serrill said.
“I believe people will protect what they love, and they’ll learn to love what they have access to,” Serrill said.
Beyond just access information, the site will detail efforts to improve rivers and streams and could be a resources for people to learn about issues including the water quality of Gore Creek.
“What (Foulis) has been working on is trying to find where American Rivers can get involved in all this other work. … The public can get a better idea of where our river stands.”
County Open Space Coordinator Toby Sprunk said he’s excited about the Blue Trail project, as much for what it represents as anything else.
“For decades, people kind of turned their backs on rivers, or saw them as dumping grounds,” Sprunk said. “But people are turning back toward the rivers now.”
Looking to the future
The idea of river recreation is important, of course, and Eagle County’s open space program has spent the past few years buying land with access to rivers.
Beyond recreation, though, Sprunk said the improved public awareness that the Blue Trail program can bring is important socially and politically, especially on the Western Slope.
Rivers are the “life blood” of the mountain economy, Sprunk said. But, since 80 percent of Colorado’s population and 80 percent of its water are on opposite sides of the Continental Divide, Sprunk said raising awareness about the importance of rivers is crucial for current and future debates over the state’s water supplies.
“We have to make the case, legally and with the public, that rivers matter,” Sprunk said. That awareness extends to decision-makers, whether elected or appointed, he said.
Those big-picture items may escape the notice of people planning a boating or fishing trip. But, Foulis said, a Blue Trail website may prompt visitors to click through to parts of the site that explain river conservation or restoration efforts.
“It’s all really exciting,” Sprunk said.
Among Vail’s volunteers, we tracked down Bob “Buckwheat” Buckley, Tony White and Brooke Franke Gagnon. They all said it was tough, that they loved it and suggested that if you try it you’ll love it too.