Throughout spring and summer, volunteers hiked along paths through brush and trees to find markers and take soil samples, count seedlings and monitor temperatures at Straight Creek.
The hikers were taking part in a project organized by the Forest Health Task Force with the help of the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.
The project site is situated on Forest Service-owned land between Straight Creek, the primary source water supply for Dillon, and Interstate 70. It included 56 monitoring plots.
The urban nature of the Straight Creek watershed has made it a subject of special interest to a variety of stakeholders, including local biologists, transportation professionals and government officials.
The area was logged and thinned after being heavily hit by the bark beetle epidemic; it was then replanted with seedlings. Straight Creek project organizers were hoping to learn more about local growing conditions and find out whether future forest restoration projects could be adjusted to optimize results.
Volunteer efforts also informed Forest Service officials as to whether the area would need to be planted with more trees in the future.
“From a national forest management perspective, we want to make sure areas are fully stocked after five years,” Cary Green, a Forest Service timber manager, said.
Forest Health Task Force director Howard Hallman hosted a meeting with Straight Creek volunteers in Frisco on Thursday, Nov. 14, to go over project results and make plans for future data collection.
“We are here to focus on the monitoring we did for Straight Creek, with our partners the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District,” Hallman told meeting participants. “Then we are going to look (at) how we can improve the program next year to make it more credible and more relevant to the Forest Service.”
Data gathered by volunteers showed such a wide variety of conditions that it was hard to make strong correlations among soil types and temperatures and seedlings’ ability to grow, Hallman said.
“It’s a story that’s still unfolding and we hope to continue the work in Straight Creek and get a better handle on why there is so much variation.”
Future data collection should shed more light on the conditions at Straight Creek, he said.
“There are other variables we haven’t tracked yet that are occurring at Straight Creek that we want to take into consideration for the future. That includes things like slope impacts, as well as sand, silt and water coming into the area from I-70,” Hallman said.
The nonprofit task force plans to switch up its volunteer monitoring activities slightly next spring and summer.
“My thought for going forward at Straight Creek is to move forward with something a little bit smaller scale but more scientific,” he said. “This should free up some volunteer time, and give them opportunities to do some backyard monitoring in areas closer to home.”
Data collected by volunteers next year will be used to help the Forest Service identify tree-growth patterns in areas that have been thinned because of the bark beetle epidemic. Monitoring will take place at wider time intervals with volunteers tracking tree growth on Forest Service-owned land and possibly on county open space, Hallman said.
The Forest Health Task Force is a collaborative program that promotes forest health in Summit County through education, outreach, community involvement and forest management.