Photo of large piles of rocks in a former river valley damaged by mining.

Swan River Restoration Project Blog

Updates on construction and project milestones.

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Jul 06

Swan River Restoration Reach B RFP & Next Steps

Posted on July 6, 2020 at 11:31 AM by Jason Lederer

As we pass the halfway point in 2020, a year which so far has been very difficult for people around the globe, throughout the US, and here in Summit County, we are grateful for some of the good things happening here locally. Despite these uncertain and turbulent times, we have continued to make headway on the Swan River Restoration Project. So on with the good!

Swan River Restoration Reach B RFP 
At the end of June, Summit County released a Request for Proposals soliciting responses from design-build teams with specific expertise in stream assessment, design, restoration, and construction to complete the final design, permitting, and construction for Reach B. Following a similar approach to the successful Reach A restoration, we are optimistic that once a design-build team is onboard, the remaining work will go forward smoothly and swiftly. 

Reach B Gravel Removal
With less than a year remaining on Summit County's Conditional Use Permit to crush gravel on the Reach B site, and less than two years remaining on the County's gravel removal contractor, Schofield Excavation's lease agreement, Schofield is working diligently to complete the ongoing mass excavation. The Contractor is performing gravel removal operations in such a manner so as to facilitate the final restoration construction by rough grading in specific site features (e.g., wetland areas, riparian floodplain, etc.), as well as adjusting operations so that the restoration construction can occur simultaneous with any ongoing gravel removal work. 

Community Support
The Swan River Restoration Project is only possible because of the ongoing coordination with, and support from, diverse partners and stakeholders. Like all projects of this scale and complexity, there have been numerous bumps in the road and lessons learned along the way. However, throughout the more than a decade of planning and implementation completed thus far, we have been overwhelmed by the support of a community that cares so much about this project and place. Comments like the following mean a lot to us:

"I visited the Swan River Restoration site this weekend for the first time since before the project was started.  My initial perspective on the project was one of skepticism.  However, after seeing the amazing transformation, I am now a true believer.  We fished it for brookies, and were impressed by the diversity of trout habitat that was created." - Carol Northcut, Keystone, CO 

New Trailhead Signage
A huge thank you to the Summit County Open Space and Trails seasonal trail crew for doing an amazing job installing some new trailhead kiosks and signage! An important aspect of this project is to help visitors better understand what happened and is happening at the Swan River restoration site. We hope these new installations help better share this project information.  
Swan Kiosk
Keep in touch; exciting things are in store for the Swan River Restoration Project! Additional information about Swan River Restoration Project is available on the Open Space and Trails Special Projects web page. If you have additional questions about the restoration project, you can contact Summit County Open Space and Trails Director Brian Lorch, or Open Space and Trails Senior Resource Specialist Jason Lederer, or call 970.668.4060.

May 06

Swan River Restoration Project - BOCC Update and Plans for 2020

Posted on May 6, 2020 at 4:45 PM by Jason Lederer

While many of us are hunkered down and doing our best to stay healthy during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, work continues on the Swan River Restoration Project. We hope you are faring well during these uncertain and turbulent times. During this unprecedented situation, we are especially grateful for Summit County's amazing open spaces - those that have been protected as federal public lands, or through local acquisition, as well as those, such as the Swan River Valley, which are being restored from abandoned mine-scarred sites to places of natural beauty and ecological function. Despite the ongoing global emergency affecting each of us in different ways, it has been a busy “off season” and we wanted to provide you with a few updates as we look towards advancing work in 2020:

Annual Update to the Summit County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC): One of the conditions of Summit County’s gravel milling permit (Conditional Use Permit) requires annual project updates to the BOCC. The Summit County Open Space and Trails Department (OST) will be providing its fourth annual update to the BOCC at a worksession scheduled for Tuesday, May 26th at 10:00 a.m. Due to requirements associated with local COVID-19 public health orders and ongoing physical distancing efforts, this meeting will be conducted virtually. Please refer to the BOCC published agenda for meeting access information. OST staff will review accomplishments from 2019 and discuss plans for the 2020, including continued gravel removal from the valley. As always, your attendance at these meetings is welcomed. 

Reach A Opening and Mining Permit Closeout: Last fall, Summit County opened the Reach A site to the public. With the native ground cover slowly becoming established, in October we were able to open the site for access. A new natural surface trail between the Browns Gulch trailhead and Rock Island Road provides access for biking, hiking, running, angling, skiing, snowshoeing, and other passive, non-motorized recreational uses. The site remains in a fragile condition, so please continue to tread gently and stay on the trail as much as possible.

With the restoration work complete and the site opened to the public, we officially removed Reach A from the County’s mine permit boundary. For the first time in over a century, this large swath of the Swan River Valley is no longer a mine site!

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Reach A Monitoring
: Annual post-construction monitoring of several site parameters, including the new channel, soil and plant development, and habitat development continues to yield positive results. Recent monitoring surveys indicate that all parameters are performing extremely well, with the new channel responding appropriately to annual flows (including the historically high 2019 spring runoff cycle), soils and plant materials becoming well-established, and stream habitat (e.g., riffles, pools, stream bed substrate) functioning as intended. Additionally, a fall 2019 fishery survey by CPW aquatic biologist, Jon Ewert indicates a very healthy fishery continues to evolve in the new Swan River channel!
Fish Survey

Reach B Progress: The County’s gravel removal contractor, Schofield Excavation, continues to make excellent progress on Reach B grading. What began as monumental task is now beginning to yield the early signs of restoration. Gravel removal efforts and site grading this year will initiate shaping of the some of the final restoration features, including the channel and wetlands pockets, as well as floodplain and upland areas.

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Keep in touch; it is shaping up to be another exciting year for the Swan River Restoration Project! Additional information about Swan River Restoration Project is available on the Open Space and Trails Special Projects web page. If you have additional questions about the restoration project, you can contact Summit County Open Space and Trails Director Brian Lorch, or Open Space and Trails Resource Specialist Jason Lederer, or call 970.668.4060.


Dec 19

Swan River Restoration Project Update - Closing Out 2019

Posted on December 19, 2019 at 10:52 AM by Jason Lederer

As the books close on 2019, we reflect back on another successful year for the Swan River Restoration Project. This past year saw the opening of Reach A to the community and the continuation of gravel removal work on Reach B. In addition, we are working hard to advance restoration on the Reach B site.

The Reach A project site fared extremely well during its second full year following the completion of work. All major stream channel features, including pools, riffles, the streambed, and banks held up well. We are also seeing excellent channel development after two runoff seasons. Minor channel adjustments are occurring as anticipated and mimicking normal changes found in any natural high alpine stream. Natural erosive and depositional features, such as cut bank habitat and sandy point bars are developing nicely.

High Flows 2High Flows 3

High Flows
Sandy point bar
Upland and riparian plantings are also doing extremely well. Riparian willow plantings are becoming well established, helping stabilize banks and shooting up new above-ground growth.
Willow bud
Natural bank stabilization was critical during this high runoff year, helping keep the stream banks intact. We only saw the additional loss of one tree – a Colorado Blue Spruce – over the last year. This brings the total tree mortality to two, out of more than 100 large mature trees installed at the site a two-and-a-half years ago. Some tree mortality is expected, but this success rate is outstanding, especially given the harsh growing conditions in the Swan River Valley. In 2019, with the help of volunteers, we supplemented the tree and shrub plantings with over 500 new juvenile plants and shrubs, including Ponderosa pine, Englemann Spruce, Aspen, Woods Rose, and Lodgepole pine.

Vol Planting 2Vol Planting
Blue Spruce
Lupen
With
the native ground cover slowly becoming established, in October we were able to open the Reach A site to the public. A new natural surface trail between the Browns Gulch trailhead and Rock Island Road provides access for biking, hiking, running, angling, skiing, snowshoeing, and other passive, non-motorized recreational uses. The site is still in a fragile condition, so we ask that you tread gently and stay on the trail as much as possible.
Giant scissorsPortal PostTrail 1

Reach A monitoring is ongoing. During October, the County coordinated with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to conduct a fish survey both downstream of, and within the Reach A restoration reach. This is the third year CPW has surveyed the new channel during the local trout spawning season. Formal survey results for 2019 will not be available until early 2020, but initial observations indicate an extremely healthy fishery is becoming established in the new channel.

Fish Survey

Gravel removal work also continued on Reach B in 2019 (above/upstream from the recently completed Reach A restoration site). Schofield Excavation initiated gravel removal in mid-March and over the past spring/summer/fall, removed approximately 70,000 tons of gravel. To date, nearly 310,000 tons of gravel have been removed from the Reach B site since gravel removal work started in 2015. Gravel removal will resume in 2020 as conditions allow and material demand permits. 


We have also been working to advance design on Reach B. In coordination with our ecological restoration consulting team, Ecological Resource Consultants, and numerous project partners including the Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado Trout Unlimited, Blue River Watershed Group, and others, the Reach B restoration design is coming into focus. Once gravel removal activities are complete, we want to ensure the design is finalized, the necessary permits are in place, and funding is available to move forward quickly.

Design


Speaking of funding, the Project saw another successful funding year, benefiting significantly from the support of our partners at Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Similar to the Reach A restoration project, the Reach B project was awarded grants from the Fishing is Fun Program ($270,000) and the Wetland/Riparian Restoration, Enhancement, and Creation Program ($150,000). We are excited to put this generous funding to good use on Reach B!


With the Reach A restoration work officially completed, we coordinated with the Colorado Division of Mining, Reclamation, and Safety (DRMS) to remove Reach A from the active mine permit boundary. In addition to reaching this exciting milestone, the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board honored the project with an outstanding mine reclamation award!

This will be the last blog post for 2019, but we will resume posting updates in 2020 as activity begins to ramp back up. Additional information about Swan River Restoration Project is available at RestoreTheSwanRiver.com as well as on the Open Space and Trails Special Projects web page. If you have additional questions about the restoration project, you can contact Summit County Open Space and Trails Director Brian Lorch, or Open Space and Trails Resource Specialist Jason Lederer, or call 970.668.4060.

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