Fraser River restoration project will get underway this summer
February 23, 2017
Environmental improvement and sustainability projects are key factors in creating and maintaining the outdoor recreational opportunities that drive so much of Grand County's commerce.
From our expansive network of U.S. Forest Service trails to the boat launches and camping grounds that make it easier to enjoy our wild spaces, pristine environments and recreational infrastructure are the foundation of the economy of the high country.
This summer several local conservation groups will be working in conjunction to improve roughly one-mile of the Fraser River between Fraser and Tabernash. The effort, called the Fraser Flats Habitat Project, will focus on two main areas: rechanneling and revegetation.
The project will tackle half a mile of the Fraser River located on Devil's Thumb Ranch property and four-tenths of a mile of land located within the boundaries of Grand Water Number 1. The section on Grand Water Number 1 land will eventually be opened up for public fishing.
“That area has been grazed since the Taggard homestead in the late 1800s. It is a wide flat valley floor that gets lots of sun with no tall vegetation to give the area shade. Shade cover will help cool the stream down, stabilize the stream banks and create under bank habitats.”Anna Drexler-Dreis
The sections that will be worked on are the slowest moving sections of the Fraser in that area, said Trout Unlimited Colorado River Headwaters Chapter President Kirk Klancke. That slow moving water results in higher temperatures and lower water velocity, creating negative impacts on fish and the bugs they eat.
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Anna Drexler-Dreis is overseeing the revegetation work on the Fraser Flats. Dreis is on the board of directors for the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. She also serves as the interim executive director of the Colorado Headwater's Land Trust. Her revegetation work on the Frase Flats is part of her masters program in environmental management from Western State in Gunnison.
On May 6, Dreis and a team of volunteers will work to harvest 4,000 willow stakes from an area on Ranch Creek. Two weeks later, on May 20 and 21, Dreis and volunteers will take the stakes to the Fraser River to plant them along the banks. Project organizers are looking for larger numbers of citizens to get involved in the process.
"That area has been grazed since the Taggard homestead in the late 1800s," said Dreis. "It is a wide flat valley floor that gets lots of sun with no tall vegetation to give the area shade. Shade cover will help cool the stream down, stabilize the stream banks and create under bank habitats."
The road to making the project a reality has been a very long one and developed out of a collaborative and adaptive management process called Learning By Doing that was established by local stakeholders, including Denver Water, Trout Unlimited and Grand County government, among many others. For involved citizens like Klancke, it is an exciting time as the paradigm shifts from the years long negotiation and preparation phase to the action phase.
"In all my years of doing this kind of work community members have always asked me what they can do to help," Klancke said. "Usually it is a political battle. But now we are ready to do work and it is going to take a lot of hands to heal this river. We hope people can be involved for decades to come."
Dreis said there would be a wide assortment of activities for volunteers in both the harvesting and replanting phases of the revegetation work.
"People can do the physical work of pounding in the stakes," Dreis said. "They can carry tools, carry willows to cars; there will be a job for anyone. If you want to help the Fraser River join us."
Klancke highlighted the importance of riparian zones as filters for streams and rivers and how they prevent the migration of soils and other debris to natural low points in riverbeds and streams.
"The riparian zone represents about three-percent of the land mass," Klancke said. "But 90 percent of wildlife depend on it."
The total cost of the project is about $190,000 with the vast majority of all funds going towards the rechanneling work. Multiple entities have put up money to support the project. Devil's Thumb Ranch is providing funding for work done on its property. Denver Water is investing in the project and Colorado Parks and Wildlife provided organizers with an $84,000 grant to help improve fishing conditions.
Rechanneling the Fraser River requires digging a deeper secondary stream channel down the middle of the existing streambed. The new channel will provide the river with a narrower path to recede to during low-flow times. The smaller channel will allow the water to continue to flow along its natural course while making the stream itself deeper with a higher water velocity; in turn cooling the stream and providing flushing flows to remove sediment and debris.
Rechanneling work will also focus on recreating a healthy ratio of riffles and pools within the streambed. Klancke said the work mimics a similar project on the Fraser completed within the Town of Fraser. "The biomass of fish in the Fraser in that area went from 10 pounds per surface acre of water to 150 pounds. We anticipate something similar on this project."
If you are interested in participating in revegetation work on the Fraser Flats Habitat Project, you can find more information on the Trout Unlimited Colorado River Headwaters Chapter website at http://www.coheadwaters.org. A short distance down the page you will find a header reading, "TU Spring 2017 Volunteer Form." You can find more information about the work to save the Fraser by searching "Save the Fraser" on Facebook or by going to http://www.grandcountylearningbydoing.org.