Swan River Restoration Project Blog

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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
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.


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.