Sand removal stalls in Black Gore Creek |

Sand removal stalls in Black Gore Creek

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL ” Traction sand from Interstate 70 may be smothering insects and harming trout in our picture-post card streams, but all that sand may have allowed wetlands to grow in Black Gore Creek.

And if those wetlands end up falling under government protection, they could interfere with plans to clean out a large sand trap in Black Gore Creek called “The Basin of Last Resort,” which has for years prevented sediment from entering Gore Creek, the gold-medal trout stream running through Vail.

Construction was supposed to begin this month on the basin, but work will be delayed until at least next fall so an environmental study on the wetlands can be completed, said Brian Healy, a biologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

Traction sand is used to keep icy and snow-packed roads safe during cold weather, but it’s also harmful to the environment. Sand eventually falls off the highway, seeps into Black Gore Creek, smothers insects, disrupts fish habitats and eventually settles in Gore Creek.

Through the years, much of that sand has sunk to the bottom of the Basin of Last Resort, a deep and flat 3-acre stretch of Black Gore Creek around mile marker 183. Now that it’s filled up, sand can more easily wash down stream and into Gore Creek.

But the fact that it filled up with sand has also created a swampy, wetland-like environment, said Andrea Holland-Sears, a hydrologist with the Forest Service.

The sediment is so high you can walk across the stream in places, and plants usually seen in wetlands are growing there.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is funding a $1.1 million clean-up project to remove more than 61,000 tons of sand from the basin. More than likely, cleaning out the basin would mean destruction of some or all the wetlands.

Now, scientists are studying the area, trying to figure out how long the wetlands have been there, if parts of the wetlands existed before the sand started piling up, or if they can even technically be called wetlands.

Basically, they’ll be figuring out if they’re worth saving. If the environmental assessment determines the wetlands meet all the criteria to be considered official wetlands, special care will need to be taken in cleaning out the Basin of Last Resort.

They would have to work around the wetlands, or they’d have to rebuild what was destroyed somewhere else, Holland-Sears said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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