Vandals rip up willows planted for Eagle River improvements project in Edwards | VailDaily.com

Vandals rip up willows planted for Eagle River improvements project in Edwards

EDWARDS — Earlier this fall, it took 100 EpicPromise volunteers to plant nearly 5,000 willow transplants along the Eagle River at Edwards.

Last week, all of that effort was trashed.

According to Holly Loff, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, when a couple of employees from the group returned to the area Friday, Nov. 17, to post educational signs about the project, they found most of the willows had been pulled from the ground along with the cedar posts where the signs were supposed to be installed.

"It's really disappointing. I am guessing it took more than one person to do all that damage," Loff said. "It had to be time consuming."

Loff said she can only guess that the damage was done by an individual or individuals who believe that their access to the river is more important than the effort to reduce erosion issues resulting from the unauthorized trail.

But as Eagle County Environmental Health Manager Ray Merry pointed out, surveys of county residents have shown that water quality is their top local environmental priority.

"Ecological protection is certainly a priority in our community, except for a few people, apparently," Merry said.

Epic effort

The story of the vandalism began earlier this year when the Eagle River Watershed Council found that someone cut an unauthorized trail through the Edwards property. The council has been working on river improvements in the area, funded by various grants that total $4 million. The willow planting was a small part of that overall effort, and it was aimed at dissuading people from using the path.

"Many people were using the path to walk their dogs, but it was causing erosion and sediment issues, so we did some education with the local residents through their homeowners associations," Loff said.

People may not understand the impact of rouge trails, Merry said. But where there are trails, there are people using them and disturbing the ground.

"Where does all that dirt end up when it rains? The river," Merry said.

And that is only one part of the problem. Where there are people and trails, there are people walking dogs on trails. That means there are dogs pooping on trails and the feces is also washed into the river.

These concerns are what prompted the willow-planting project. On EpicPromise Day, a corps of 100 volunteers converged at the unauthorized trail site to plant 5,000 willow stakes. They also dug in posts for the educational signs, printed by Vail Resorts, that detailed why the project was important. The signs warned people not to disturb the critical riparian plants by trampling the new willow plantings that would help create wildlife habitat and improve water quality.

When the signs were ready for installation, the watershed council employees found that the two 4-by-4 cedar posts installed to display them had been pulled from the ground and the holes had been filled back in with dirt. Further down the trail, some 85 percent of the 5,000 willow stakes had been ripped from the ground and thrown in the river.

"The path now has dog poop along it and is clearly being used regularly," Loff said.

Reaching out

Loff said the Eagle River Watershed Council has already reached out to the Brett Ranch Homeowners Association, which has been a great partner for the habitat restoration project.

"They sent out an email to let people know what happened and to tell them if they see anyone acting like that again to let us know," Loff said. "People probably saw whoever did this and they just assumed they were doing something that they should be doing."

For now, the approach of winter means the council can't mend the damage that has been done.

"The ground is frozen and we can't replace the willows now," Loff said. "We are not really sure where to go from here."

Merry shared her dismay.

"The Watershed Council is such a great partner to help us meet our goals of protecting the natural environment of the county," Merry said. "Look at all the effort it took to get a group of people together for this project. It was a great community effort. It's just disappointing to see that all dismantled."

The council is interested in learning more about the vandalism. Anyone with information can contact the Eagle County Sheriff's Office at 970-328-8500.

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