Experts: Gore Creek access is too spread out
VAIL — Bug life was on the minds of many Wednesday as about 50 residents and others gathered to learn about restoration efforts underway on Gore Creek.
The creek has been identified as provisionally impaired for aquatic life by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, and has seen a decline in macroinvertebrate bugs during the past decade or so.
To fix the problem, people have to think of the creek as the area not just where there’s water, but the area along the banks, as well, said Jason Carey of river restoration.org. Carey is a river engineer who has been hired by the town of Vail to help correct the creek’s problems, which are occurring in large part due to storm water runoff and a lack of natural vegetation areas — riparian zones — alongside the stream.
Carey used the Lionshead Village parking structure, where the meeting was held, as an example of how development has changed runoff areas surrounding Gore Creek.
“We consider ourselves, right here, as part of the river, in the river environment,” he said. “Because (the river) is right here, two buildings away, we’ve changed the drainage pattern, and how all this water is flowing into the river.”
Vail has already started efforts to restore riparian zones in town, and will continue that work this summer. Some of those efforts have been a collaboration between the town of Vail and the Eagle River Watershed Council, such as the recent work undertaken near the skier bridge in Lionshead Village. Watershed council board member Chip Bair volunteered hours and project management to the effort with the business that he owns, United Cos.
“There were several areas where there were numerous access points to the river,” Bair said. “It was all trampled with roots exposed and bare banks, so we went through and put in a series of boulder walls and added topsoil, erosion control fabric and got it seeded. Then there was a split rail fence put in to limit the access points … this summer we will put in some stone slab steps to let people know ‘if you’re going to go down by the river, go in here.’”
That message is an important one, as a lot of the problems Gore Creek is seeing are due to what Carey and the town are calling “random tramplings,” where people are walking along too vast a stretch of riparian area. A solution to that problem is creating hardened access points — like the stone slab steps Bair mentioned — in an effort to narrow entry ways to the creek.
Ensuring people can still enjoy the creek is on of the town’s priorities in the restoration efforts.
“The best benefit for the river is a bunch of stewards in the community that care about the river and keep an eye on the river and want the river to be a special, functioning, healthy place,” Carey said.
Much effort has been made by the town of Vail to establish the river’s own property rights throughout its riparian zone. The town has been doing that by creating easements along Gore Creek and actually purchasing properties along it in some cases.
“The river, in a lot of places, doesn’t have property rights,” Carey said. “And so people keep moving their property into the river … there’s been a lot of locations where people have built basketball courts, swimming pools, bluegrass lawns, patios and gazebos into the river.”
The town itself has been guilty of such behavior in the past. Carey brought up the example of the Vail Golf Course, where a tee box had to be moved recently.
“They were really worried that the tee was eroding and I went out there and said ‘Look, the tee is not eroding, the problem is that you built the tee into the river,’” Carey said.
One East Vail homeowner in attendance Wednesday asked if Vail property owners had been cooperative in the efforts to restore the riparian areas on their property.
“It’s a mix,” town of Vail Watershed Education Coordinator Pete Wadden said. “Now that we’re having issues with the creek and we’re reaching out to try to tell them ‘Hey, you can’t mow that’ … there has been some understandable pushback. Some people are more receptive to that than others, and our strategy is to try and reach out with education — the carrot before the stick — rather than writing tickets and enforcing fines. In some places, people say ‘I had no idea, if it helps the creek that’s great, I’ll do it.’ … But the people who say ‘No way, get out of my back yard,’ they tend to say it a little louder.”
BRINGING BUGS BACK HOME
Macroinvertebrate numbers are good indicators of overall stream health. Wadden said with the right amount of cooperation, the macroinvertebrate decline on Gore Creek can be reversed.
“One of our entomologists estimated that if we could just snap our fingers and solve all the problems, bug populations would be back up to normal within about six weeks,” Wadden said. “The hope is that we can slowly chip away at this large, complex problem, and make it easier for these bugs to survive so that they do come back.”
In the short term, those most capable of helping probably already own a tool that will be needed this summer — a planting kneeler. There are a lot of sites along Gore Creek that are now ready for seeds to be sowed in an effort to create more vegetation in the creek’s riparian zone. Email Wadden at pwadden @vailgov.org to get involved.