More public education needed for Vail’s Gore Creek plan | VailDaily.com

More public education needed for Vail’s Gore Creek plan

VAIL — Bill Andrus and his family have been coming to Vail for years. They own a place along Gore Creek at the Vail Racquet Club in East Vail. And at a recent town picnic, the family was surprised to learn Gore Creek needs help.

There was an informational table set up at that July 12 picnic in Bighorn Park so residents could learn more about the town's Restore the Gore cleanup effort. The table, and news about the creek, caught Andrus by surprise.

From the looks of the creek, "it should be clean," Andrus said.

That was an opportunity for Pete Wadden, the town's watershed education coordinator. It's Wadden's job to make sure the Andrus family and others know about what's going on with the Gore.

The easy answer is this: Gore Creek — along with numerous other creeks and rivers in the Colorado mountains — a few years ago landed on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's list of impaired waterways. In the case of Gore Creek, the problem is a lack of bugs that fish feed on. The lack of bugs leads to reduced fish populations, creating a domino effect of environmental effects.

PROJECTS TO CLEAN UP THE CREEK

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The town, along with the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the Eagle River Watershed Council, spent a few years and a good bit of money developing a plan to restore the creek. Solutions include upgrading the town's storm sewer system, changing the way public and private land owners spray for weeds and pests and altering landscaping practices.

A couple of substantial public projects started this year, upgrading the storm sewers in East Vail and improvements in runoff management at the East Vail Interstate 70 interchange.

That interchange project is still in the design stage, and town officials will hold an open house today at town hall to allow residents to comment on landscaping and other elements of the plan.

Another proposal, called Project Re-Wild, is a public-private partnership that could speed restoring some creekside areas.

It's a big job — a number of big jobs, actually — that isn't made easier by the fact that the creek looks fine at first blush.

That's why Wadden was hired for two years — to explain the plan, and the reasons for it, to residents, landscapers, property managers and others.

'A QUIET DISTURBANCE'

"In some ways, it's easier with a river like the Animas (in southwestern Colorado), where it changed color," said Kristen Bertuglia, Vail environmental sustainability manager. "In our case, it's a quiet disturbance — that's why we're out at everything."

Bertuglia said town officials go to concerts, are at town picnics and attend homeowners meetings.

That education has paid off so far. Bertuglia said several associations have changed their spraying, watering and landscaping habits.

And, she added, the Racquet Club has been a leader in those efforts.

But just what efforts will produce results remains to be seen.

When a problem has many causes, it's hard to assign shares of blame. It's hard to say what percentage of the insect population will return with better landscaping, or better treatment of storm and highway runoff.

"We're figuring out the right combination," Bertuglia said.

And, while Bertuglia said it seems most residents are aware of at least the basics of the problems with the creek, there's still more work to do.

"It's going to take some time — we're not there yet," she said.

On the other hand, Bill Andrus asked Wadden the same question asked by virtually everyone who learns about the creek: "How can we help?"

That's encouraging, Bertuglia said.

"This isn't a political thing — we're bringing the community together with this," she said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.