Gilman Gorge litter frustrates boaters | VailDaily.com

Gilman Gorge litter frustrates boaters

John O'Neill and John LaConte
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

hese photos, taken May 11, show one of several Union Pacific communication poles that was recently discarded in the Gilman Gorge section of the Eagle River, outraging local kayakers. Union Pacific spokesperson Mark Davis says he's looking into how it happened. 

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Local boaters want to know who put a strain on Gilman Gorge.

Vail Valley kayaker Robbie Smith was one of the first people this season to venture through the scenic canyon near the old abandoned mining town of Gilman, and he was welcomed with a nasty surprise just above “Fall Creek,” the first Class V rapid – experts-only water that is “extremely difficult” – you encounter on the Gilman Gorge section of the Eagle River.

“Last year, it was clean,” said Smith. “This year there were telephone poles, parts of telephone poles, and wires sticking out of the river.”

The hazards posed potentially deadly consequences as the downed poles stretched across the water, creating what kayakers call a “strainer.” A strainer in the river acts much like a pasta strainer – the water goes through while the solid object doesn’t. Kayakers fear strainers as they often come from logs that shift around in the river, tangling kayakers beneath the water if not avoided.

“The poles in the river not only damage the natural beauty of the river but also make for a huge danger to kayakers,” said Chris Woods, a local kayaker. “A very unnecessary hazard.”

Woods and Smith counted six poles in the river. Five were manageable for kayakers as they were able to navigate around them. But one of the poles, right before Fall Creek, stretched across the water and forced kayakers to exit their boats, get out of the river, and walk around it. The other poles lay in the water with some extending a mass of wires and glass fixtures into the river. Each of the poles has a clean, saw cut on the bottom.-

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“I’m absolutely frustrated,” Woods said. “Whoever did this showed complete disregard to the boating community.”

Romeo Baylosis was another member of that first group down the gorge this season. He’s been down the gorge numerous times in the past, and was expecting another clean run when the group started noticing the poles in the water.-

“We put on and were cruising down our local run,” said Baylosis. “We started seeing these T-shaped poles with bulbs and wires hanging off of them. We saw three or four in the first half and started to worry.”

Baylosis said that as they approached one of the larger drops, their worry and experience as safe boaters told them to get out of their boats and “scout” the next rapid. Their fears were confirmed when they saw the next pole – 30 feet long and 18 inches in diameter – stretched across the river at water level.-

“You’re paddling down a Class V river, your local spot,” Baylosis said. “You think you know a place and then you start seeing hazards that weren’t there before. It makes you heads up and start to worry. If someone gets wrapped up in the wire or caught under a pole, you have a major rescue situation.”

The Eagle County Sheriff’s Department says the valuable copper adorning the poles may have contributed to the way they were discarded.-

“The Union Pacific Railroad has a contract with a company that’s going through and removing the communication poles along the railroad, and they’re actually removing them for free, as far as I understand, so they can keep the copper,” said Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Jessie Mosher.-

Union Pacific spokesperson Mark Davis says they’re looking into the issue.-

“I know they try to remove (the poles) once they’ve changed out our signaling system,” said Davis. “These guys, even if we contract, are our own people. They’re supposed to control the fall of, and properly remove, any of these (communication poles).”

Kayakers say a good Samaritan has since come along and pushed the Fall Creek pole off to the side of the river, making it less dangerous, but by this time next year it could be right back in the water depending on flows. Nevertheless, those who enjoy the natural beauty our area want answers.-

“Gilman Gorge is out of the way. Not many people get down there and see things like this,” said Woods. “Just because Gilman isn’t a popular spot does not make it OK to litter the river with downed telephone poles.”-