Tenmile Creek restoration project receives grant funding for next phase
In the 1700s and early 1800s, when Utes summered where Dillon Reservoir is now and buffalo roamed Summit County, water flowed down the Tenmile Creek somewhat differently than it does today.
Humans heavily impacted the creek between Fremont Pass and Frisco with mining and logging, railroads and highways.
About 100 years ago, Climax Molybdenum was the biggest offender. The mine’s dams, built to contain toxic waste rock, failed and blowouts caused tons of sediment to rush downstream, destroying habitat and wiping out native flora and fauna.
By the middle of the 20th century, mining practices had changed, said Justin Anderson, White River National Forest hydrologist, and now the mine has large tailings ponds that effectively trap sediment.
However, those functioning dams blocked not only toxic waste but also the majority of water flowing downstream, which meant the creek was locked in its disturbed condition for decades, he said. “Tenmile Creek was kind of frozen in time.”
Anderson has led the creek’s restoration project from the Forest Service side, collaborating with other agencies and organizations — including the Blue River Watershed Group, Copper Mountain Resort and Climax Mine.
In the summer of 2013, the group of partners put heavy machinery in the creek and began the project, which is expected to take four summers and cost about $800,000.
Due to a lack of initial funding, the project was broken into two parts and shortened from a goal of 3,200 feet of creek restoration to about 2,750 feet.
Project partners completed phase one of the project last week. So far, they’ve restored about 1,600 feet of stream channel and 3.15 acres of riparian, wetland and floodplain habitat.
On Sept. 12 the partners received a $275,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board for phase two.
Thanks to that grant funding, Anderson said, the project has almost reached its fundraising goal and work will continue.
The state water conservation board has provided most of the money for the project. Climax contributed $80,000 to the first phase and $50,000 to the second, Copper Mountain paid for the Forest Service environmental assessment and some materials, and the National Forest Foundation and CDOT are pitching in.
This summer, the group planted around 3,000 shrubs, Anderson said. The town of Frisco provided 2,200 willow clippings from a site near Whole Foods, which a Forest Service crew clipped in the early spring and volunteers with the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District planted in June. Then another 800 shrubs came from a nursery.
The revegetation has seen an 80 percent success rate so far with the willow transplants, said Jim Shaw, board treasurer of the Blue River Watershed Group, which he credits to “a wonderfully wet summer.”
That wet summer created some hurdles though. Runoff season lasted longer than usual, and high flows eroded the creek for two weeks, damaging the revegetated area in two places.
The heavy runoff gave some insight into how the creek will flood in future years, Shaw said, so last week the partners fixed up some of the damaged spots but they will probably keep one part the way it is now.
Next summer, the partners will start phase two and work toward restoring another 1,200 feet of the creek downstream toward the Conoco gas station.
When the project is finished, the creek will have improved habitat for fish, birds and other creatures. For the humans spending time in and around the Tenmile, that means better wildlife watching, fishing and kayaking.
“Having natural ecosystems that function at their potential, be they streams or lakes or forests,” Anderson said, “all these things, they’re important to the quality of life in Summit County.”
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