Summit County, Breckenridge open Swan River Restoration Project area to public
BRECKENRIDGE — Summit County and the town of Breckenridge held a grand opening ceremony Tuesday for public access to the Swan River Restoration Project off Tiger Road in Breckenridge. The project, with the first of four phases now complete, aims to restore a large section of the Swan River that was destroyed by gold mine dredging in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
At the ceremony, officials from Summit County government, the town of Breckenridge, the U.S. Forest Service other agencies and local residents converged at Tiger Road and Rock Island Road, four miles east of Colorado Highway 9.
There, a new public trailhead has opened, with the recently finished trail winding about a mile along the bends of the new streambed and into the White River National Forest. Rocks and flora line the restored stream as it flows west, becoming a tributary to the Blue River when the two waterways meet near Highway 9.
“It’s a wonderful day when you can stand here and undo the sins of the past,” Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula said. “Especially with our mining history and the scars that were left here, it’s really cool to look out and see what it was like before anyone showed up here.”
The project has been in the works since 2005, when the county and town purchased the land from mining company B&B for $9 million. In presenting the opening for public access to the site, county Open Space and Trails Director Brian Lorch said it always had been envisioned that the 1,840-acre site would be preserved and restored the way it looked in the 19th century.
Along with the landscape restoration, Open Space and Trails Senior Resource Specialist Jason Lederer said the location is starting to be a great home for fish, with the stream shaping up to become a great brook trout fishery.
Planning for the Swan River restoration began in 2009, with work beginning in 2015 on what is now known as Reach A. The restored bed is now flowing and has been ecologically active for three years, the first time the Swan River has been flowing above ground since dredge barges used huge shovels to literally turn the streambed upside down looking for precious metals.
The restoration project involves removing material from the streambed off-site, which requires gravel crushing on-site for transport elsewhere. That gravel work has been a source of tension for Tiger Road residents, who have been troubled by the increased truck traffic, noise and road deterioration generated by the increasing numbers of large, heavy and loud dump trucks roaring up and down the road for years.
Tiger Road resident Laurel Harris and a few of her neighbors were on hand to observe the trail opening. Harris, who has lived on Tiger Road for 23 years, said she was not opposed to the merits of the project and thought the site “looked great.” Still, she said, it’s been a “constant battle” for Tiger Road residents to deal with the truck traffic.
“We’ve been having to keep on it as residents, before it gets out of control. Residents need to stay involved because they’re not done yet,” Harris said, referring to the fact that the project still has three more phases to go.
The county has not provided a timetable for when work will begin on Reach B. Things get more complicated with the last two sections, Reach C and D, some of which are on private land and therefore not as flexible with material removal.
In July 2018, a large contingent of Tiger Road residents opposed to more gravel crushing and the truck traffic packed the Summit Board of County Commissioners’ hearing room in Breckenridge to oppose the granting of a rock crushing permit to building materials company Peak Materials. That permit would have allowed Peak to crush gravel around the planned Reach C site and take it off-site, clearing the way for future restoration efforts.
Tiger Road resident Joe Harris said he and other residents were opposed to any new permits for rock crushing, saying the truck traffic was too high and that granting another permit for crushing would just compound the problem. For now, Joe Harris said the residents just want the trucks to drive safely while they do what they have to do.
“We want them to keep the loads covered and the speeds down,” Joe Harris said, acknowledging that after their concerns were raised with county and town officials, who had talks with the private contractors on-site, the situation had improved somewhat.
Tiger Road resident Andy Lewis had an additional request of the contractors to help maintain his own sanity while he’s trying to enjoy the neighborhood:
“Tell them to stop blowing the horn when I’m putting at the golf course,” he said.
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