Will Gore Creek restoration start this year?
Through the years
1962: Vail ski resort opens.
1978: Interstate 70 over Vail Pass is completed.
2009: Colorado Department of Transportation stops using magnesium chloride as a road de-icer
2012: Gore Creek is part of a state list of “impaired” streams.
VAIL — Not much happened along Gore Creek before 1962, when the Vail ski resort opened. Since then, the creek has been subjected to a lot of human use. Now it needs help, and help in earnest could start this year.
Based on new standards of stream health, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment put Gore Creek on a list of impaired streams in the state in 2012. The local creek isn’t alone. A number of streams through and near mountain towns are on the list.
Still, “impaired stream” and “mountain playground” don’t sound good together. That’s why local officials have been working on plans to improve aquatic life in the creek for the past several years.
Stream Health factors
That work took a lot of time because a host of causes affect the stream’s health, ranging from road sand and de-icer to runoff from parking lots to what landowners use to control weeds on their creekside properties. All of those things affect aquatic life in the creek — specifically, the small bugs that allow other aquatic life to flourish.
This week, the Vail Planning and Environmental Commission approved a town action plan to help with the creek cleanup. The Vail Town Council is expected to get its first look at the approved plan in February and will likely approve the plan soon after.
That action by the town is needed because the town needs to pass regulations to help with the cleanup. That’s when work can begin in earnest.
“We’re starting to see the road to tangible results now,” Kristen Bertuglia, Vail’s environmental sustainability manager said.
Those results, which could start as soon as this spring, include repairing eroded stream banks, planting native vegetation and other steps.
The plan has identified 42 streamside enhancement projects between the farthest reaches of East Vail and the confluence of Gore Creek with the Eagle River. Brooke Ranney, the projects and events coordinator with the Eagle River Watershed Council, said each of those areas is an acre or less in size. Those sites have also been prioritized. Most of the improvements focus on storm drainage. But some will have a direct effect on how people can reach the stream.
Ranney said one project is just west of the skier bridge in Lionshead Village. That area sees a lot of foot traffic, which has caused erosion along the banks. That project will stabilize the stream bank. But, Ranney said, the trick with that and other projects is stabilizing areas while still allowing access to the stream.
Arriving at the point of having a restoration plan in place has taken years of research and planning.
While Gore Creek landed on the state’s list in 2012, the new water-quality standards were understood several years before. Diane Johnson, of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, said the district started gathering data about the stream in 2008 as part of an effort to understand how the standards would affect the wastewater treatment plant just west of Lionshead in Vail.
Research guides results
While the treatment plant can clean up water downstream, Johnson said there’s nothing the district can do about pollution upstream. But the research the district has done over the past several years will guide the town’s plan.
“We’re finally moving from field work, research and analysis to action,” Johnson said.
That field work has involved a lot time beating the bushes — literally. In 2015, the town hired SGM, a Glenwood Springs-based engineering company, to do a comprehensive inventory of the town’s storm sewer system.
“They did an excellent job,” Bertuglia said. “They literally got into the weeds and tracked where the (storm sewer) basins go.”
While the watershed council is a nonprofit group with a limited budget, Ranney said that group can help coordinate educational projects and, in some cases, round up volunteers for restoration projects. The council used a lot of volunteer help for a stream restoration project in Edwards a few years ago.
Community involvement is important in cleanup and restoration efforts, and Bertuglia said town residents seem ready.
“It’s encouraging how engaged the community has been,” she said.
Johnson said that’s going to be important in the future — and not just for people who live along the creek.
“We can all make personal choices,” Johnson said. “Anything that runs off your driveway or your lawn eventually makes it down to the creek.”