Restoration work on Swan River public open space set to wrap up this year |

Restoration work on Swan River public open space set to wrap up this year

A completed river bend — with large, woody bank-stabilization debris — is pictured as part of the Swan River Restoration Project in September 2021. Reach B of the project is expected to be complete by the end of 2022.
Summit County Open Space and Trails/Courtesy photo

Almost nine years after the initial design report for the Swan River Restoration Project was released, Summit County’s work on the publicly owned portion of the project is nearly complete.

By the time 2022 comes to an end, Reach B of the restoration project will have brought back about 4,800 linear feet of stream channel, 13 acres of riparian floodplain and 8 acres of upland habitat.

Troy Thompson, president of Ecological Resource Consultants, which is one of the organizations leading the project, said there’s a small portion of land yet to be reclaimed because of remaining gravel on-site, but he said this is expected to be complete by the end of July.

After this is complete, more extensive revegetation will come along, though some initial work was started in 2021. Plans are also in place for large scale planting of trees and shrubs across the site.

“It really is an amazing thing to see in a valley that was completely decimated by mining impacts over 100 years ago,” Thompson said. “… There really was minimal vegetation and habitat, both from a terrestrial and aquatic standpoint, and to be able to have restored almost 2 miles of new stream and over 45 acres of wetland, riparian and upland vegetation — it’s just such a wonderful project to be a part of.”

Ecological Resource Consultants tackled more of the design and biological aspects of restoration, while heavy equipment contractor Tezak worked to provide operational equipment support.

By the end of 2021’s work season, excavation of the stream channel was just about finished. Jordan Mead, resource specialist with Summit County Open Space and Trails, said almost 50,000 tons of gravel were hauled off the land to generate revenue for the project last year. He also said 18 acres of the dredge-mined valley floor was restored last year.

“I think that things moved quickly in a really great way,” Mead said. “There’s so many different pieces to a puzzle like this, and the almost 2 miles of new river corridor installed over a five- or six-year period since the first construction began on Reach A is really just astounding. I think it speaks really highly of the staff at Summit County and of the contractors that we worked with to get this work done.”

Another big piece of last year’s work was bank stabilization, for which Mead said they used large, woody debris to create diverse fish habitats. He said this was done based on a recommendation from Colorado Parks and Wildlife fisheries and stream restoration biologists. A bridge crossing on Rock Island Road was also completed last year, another accomplishment of which Mead is proud.

Last year was the final year of monitoring on Reach A, required by the Army Corps of Engineers, and after Reach B is complete, it will require five years of monitoring, as well. The county and its partners will have additional monitoring, including vegetation, cross sections of the stream channel and fish population assessments.

Both Mead and Thompson agreed the restoration project would not have been possible without the community’s support, including the town of Breckenridge and various local nonprofits. Mead also mentioned two grants from Parks and Wildlife and one from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that supported the project, totaling $720,000.

“It’s been impressive to see all of the community support from energy and time and obviously the financial commitment that it has taken to do it,” Thompson said. “It’s just really, really exciting to see this lower portion of the valley, of that Swan River Restoration, so close to completion.”

Mead said he thinks the Swan River project is something the whole county can be proud of and should be used as an example for continuing restoration work with similar projects in other areas. Thompson said the project shows the potential for reclaiming lost ecological values, which are prevalent throughout Summit County with impacts from mining.

There are two additional reaches of the Swan River in need of restoration, but these are privately owned areas that the county would not play a role in restoring. Mead said there are talks happening to continue restoration work, but nothing is decided at this point.

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