Swan River Restoration Project heads into Phase 2 of dredge mining cleanup
This story has been corrected to reflect that bucket line dredges, not steam shovels, were used to dig up the valley floor.
FRISCO — One of the most unique ecological restoration projects in Summit County’s history is reaching another milestone. The Swan River Restoration Project, a major undertaking by the county to restore the Upper Swan River Valley from dredge mining during the Colorado Gold Rush, is looking to start work on a second portion of the river.
The project aims to reconnect the three main tributaries of the Upper Snake River Valley and resurrect a river long buried under the spoils of the county’s mining past. The entire project will restore 12,200 lineal feet of the stream channel and improve the ecosystem along the entire stretch.
Swan River was destroyed when bucket-line dredges literally turned the river upside down in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Since then, the river has been flowing under the surface through the waste tailings, debris and broken cobble that were left behind. There is no surface connection between the three forks of the river and thus no connection for plants, fish and wildlife habitat.
In 2016, Summit County and numerous partners started construction on Reach A, the downstream portion of the more than 3 miles of river the county is looking to restore when the project is all said and done.
Construction on Reach A completed 2 1/2 years ago. It converted a half-mile of destroyed stream channel, which had been flowing as a flooded ditch along Tiger Road, into a mile of new meandering stream.
The new riparian corridor is 65 feet wide and provides 16 acres of wildlife habitat along with a healthy fishery taking shape in the new river channel with brook trout and mottled sculpin. More than 300 trees have been planted along the banks, which has been reseeded for grass, sage and other native plants and is flourishing after the wet winter.
The county updated the project’s blog July 31, announcing that work has restarted on the project after delays caused by snowpack and a wet spring and early summer. Construction of Reach B, the second of four portions slated for restoration, is the next item on the project’s agenda.
County Open Space and Trails resource specialist Jason Lederer wrote in the July 31 blog post that contractor Schofield Excavation had removed nearly all the gravel up to the eastern boundary of Reach B.
While Schofield finishes its excavation work, the county will work with Ecological Resource Consultants to optimize the restoration design for Reach B before beginning construction.
The update also reported that Reach A experienced a bit of erosion at a temporary overflow channel created to accommodate high runoff. The county worked with its excavation contractor to stabilize the channel, which will be abandoned when Reach B is completed and flow is restored to that section.
Aside from that minor setback, Reach A is running beautifully in its third season after construction, according to the update.
“Two and half years following the completion of major construction, we are happy to report that the new stream fared quite well with riffles, pools, banks and other features functioning as intended,” Lederer wrote. “In fact, we are even starting to see new habitat features, such as sandy point bars, form naturally.”
Given the complex nature of the project, including challenges obtaining funding and gaining access to portions of the project that are on private property, the county has not provided an estimated timeline for completion of the project.
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