The Friends of the Dillon Ranger District relied on power in numbers to make an impact on our forests this weekend.
On Friday morning, volunteers walked along the banks of a newly created Ten Mile Creek channel and surrounding wetlands near Copper Mountain Resort. They used metal stakes of rebar to poke thousands of holes in the ground and planted more than 2,000 willows along the Ten Mile Creek watershed.
The plantings will play a major part in re-vegetating the land during the second phase of the multi-year, multi-million dollar watershed restoration project.
Forest Service employees prepared thousands of willow cuttings, each about 4 feet long, to be planted at the project site, located between the Conoco Station and Copper Mountain’s Far East parking lot. The native plants will not only support fish and wildlife habitat, they will also create a sponge-like buffer between the highway and the newly created stream channel, trapping runoff and sediment coming off the highway before it can seep into the stream, according to White River National Forest hydrologist Justin Anderson.
The Forest Service, the Blue River Watershed Group and a variety of community partners have teamed up to restore habitat at the site. Before the project began, the long-term impacts from mining and development had stripped the land of many of its natural features.
The volunteer-planted willows will help to bring the area back to life, Anderson said. His goal for the site is to restore it, as closely as possible, to what it looked like hundreds of years ago — before mining, before development, before the highway and recreation areas popped up.
Without the help of community partners, forest restoration projects like this one simply couldn’t get off the ground, Anderson said.
“The Blue River Watershed Group contributed to the project before it was ever funded, taking a leap of faith that if they put time and effort to it — it would be completed,” he said.
Blue River Watershed Group board member Jim Shaw said the Ten Mile Creek project was a good fit for his group and its fundraising and technical expertise, adding that the FDRD’s volunteer pool will play an important role in the completion of the project.
“We want to have as much volunteer activity as possible for a host of reasons,” he said. “Not only does it help save money by lowering costs, it also helps raise community support for the project.”
FDRD executive director Jessica Evett said that the project and other volunteer restoration efforts have been among the most important additions to the group’s schedule over the past several years.
“Most people don’t realize that 90 percent of Colorado’s wildlife depend on riparian areas like this at some point in their life cycle,” she said. “With projects like these, our communities are taking on truly meaningful work that helps restore zones of critical habitat that have been declining at an alarming rate across our state. There’s nothing like coming back to one of these project sites years later and seeing the positive impacts we can make on a local level.”
Over the past century, scores of wetlands have been lost — along with ecological benefits, Ten Mile Creek restoration project manager Anderson said. While it takes time for plants to mature, he expects to see a fully restored natural setting at the project site within five years.
Ten Mile Creek restoration coordinators said the fact that a newly created portion of the Summit County recpath now runs through the area adds value to the project.
“The bicycle path attracts huge amounts of tourists,” Shaw said. “This whole corridor has already been spruced up. When we finish the project, it will make it that much more pleasant experience for thousands of people.”
To volunteer for this project, or for National Trails Day, go to www.fdrd.org.
Breeana Laughlin is the office and volunteer coordinator at the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.