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Input & Feedback Encouraged re: Operations on West Vail Pass, I-70

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) today released recommendations to improve safety and operations on West Vail Pass on Interstate 70. Virtual public engagement begins today and will continue through Oct. 21. CDOT welcomes input on all projects and feedback is encouraged during the virtual public engagement period.

The Proposed Action is a package of improvements including an eastbound and westbound auxiliary lane on I-70 on the west side of Vail Pass in Eagle County, from the East Vail exit (Mile Point 180) to the Vail Pass Rest Area (Mile Point 190). Other improvements include a widened inside shoulder, reconstruction of tight curves, wildlife underpasses and fencing, water quality improvements, truck ramp and parking enhancements, median glare screens and relocation of two miles of the recreation path that is currently next to I-70. The latest technology will be used to add variable speed limit and message signs and a way to close the pass immediately through a remote system when necessary.

A detailed description and evaluation of the Proposed Action has been documented in the Environmental Assessment (EA) and Section 4(f) Evaluation, which considers benefits, impacts, and proposed mitigation for numerous environmental and community resources. The EA and Section 4(f) Evaluation can be found on the project web page: www.bit.ly/WestVailPass.

Due to current limitations on public events during the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), CDOT will provide a virtual opportunity for public engagement. A video summarizing the study, findings, and next steps is available on the project web page and printed copies are available at the locations listed below. Community members are invited to view this at these materials at their convenience before submitting a comment. Public comments can be submitted any time during the 30-day public review period (Sept. 22 – Oct. 21).

Printed copies are available at the following locations:

Vail Public Library
292 W. Meadow Drive
Vail, CO 81657

Town of Vail Administration Office
75 S. Frontage Road
Vail, CO 8165

The report will be available for review and comment from today through Oct. 21. Public input will be considered by CDOT and the Federal Highway Administration prior to issuing a decision document to determine if the project can move forward as planned.

CDOT has obtained $140.4 M for construction of the first phase of improvements, which could begin in 2021. Funding includes a $60.7 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) gra awarded this summer by the U.S. Department of Transportation. If the project moves forward, CDOT will continue to pursue additional funding to complete the rest of the project.

To learn more about the project, join the mailing list, or submit comments, visit www.bit.ly/WestVailPass. Comments can also be provided via email cdot_wvailpassauxlanes@state.co.us or the project hotline phone number: 970-331-0200, or by mail to CDOT, attn: John Kronholm, PO Box 298, Eagle, CO 81631-0298.

new WVP logo side by side.jpg

www.bit.ly/WestVailPass

email: cdot_wvailpassauxlanes@state.co.us

In the News – Flylords Magazine Feature

Please check out the article, run in Flylords Magazine, here.

Restore The Gore

The revival of the heart of Vail

By Andrew Braker -July 17, 2020

Vail has long been known as a great destination for fly fishing. The fishing opportunities surrounding the town, including Gore Creek, the Eagle River, the Colorado River, and the surplus of alpine lakes and streams, have always lured anglers to this location. 

Landscape view of the Vail Valley including a pond and the Gore Mountain Range
Courtesy of the Town of Vail

Gore Creek—the creek that runs through the heart of Vail—provides anglers with the unique opportunity to catch a “Colorado Grand Slam” (catching a rainbow, brown, brook, and cutthroat trout from the same body of water on the same day)! Sunny and 70’s, pulling out different species on each take, and being surrounded by beautiful mountain vistas … Gore Creek is hard to beat.

Brook trout in hand.
Courtesy of @ericbraker

While fishing on Gore creek can be epic, the stream’s condition is much different than it was a few decades ago. Today, the stream faces problems of pollutants from urban runoff, drainage from pavement and rooftops, and the loss of streamside vegetation that filters pollutants and slows their drainage. In order to learn more about the history of Gore Creek and the ongoing restoration work that is happening, we met up with Pete Wadden, the Watershed Education Coordinator for the Town of Vail.

Q & A 

Flylords: 

Hey Pete! So where does the story behind Gore Creek begin?

Pete Wadden: 

I’ll go back to the initial development of the town. Vail is actually pretty young. Construction on the town began in 1962, and the town grew very slowly up until the late 70’s. But from the 80’s until the present day, there was an explosion of growth that led to the rapid development of Vail and the surrounding Eagle Valley. Within a period of about 50 years, the valley went from being a fairly untouched area, consisting of beaver swamps and marshes, meandering streams, and natural forests, to a place with near-urban levels of development, and an interstate highway.

Night time scene of the town of Vail.
Courtesy of @mr._ford

Flylords:

How did this development affect Gore Creek?

Pete Wadden:

When these early developments were happening, people weren’t really thinking of the impact it would have on the stream. As the land started to be developed, Gore Creek was channelized and redirected away from the prime building locations. These developments had negative impacts on the water quality, water speed, water temperature, and the amount of valuable habitat. As you can imagine, this had a negative impact on the trout fishery.

Person casting on Gore Creek with mountains in the background.
Courtesy of @ericbraker

Flylords:

What is the Town of Vail doing to help get Gore Creek back on its feet?

Pete Wadden:

In 2016 the town introduced the “Restore the Gore” initiative. The initiative focuses on three main aspects: 1) Riparian Restoration, 2) Stormwater, and 3) Landscaping Practices.

We are about to surpass our goal of planting 10,000 native trees and shrubs along the creek. We have also started a project called “Project Rewild”—a public/private cost share that helps private property owners restore their property. This is especially important considering that 60% of the watershed is privately owned. Another popular initiative is the artwork that we feature next to the town’s storm drains. Each summer we have local artists create pieces that depict Gore Creek’s native habitat. Pieces (like the one below) are featured next to the storm drains to help educate the public on the idea that “what goes in here, ends up there.”

Painting of a cutthroat trout swimming in a stream
Courtesy of @mandyhertz_flyart

Flylords:

What does the future of Gore Creek look like?

Pete Wadden:

There is a lot of work ahead of us, but the future looks good. The health of the creek, and the strength of the fishing will only be improving from here on out. With the help from the town, local nonprofits, and the stewardship of private landowners, Gore Creek will continue to get healthier with time.

Two people restoring the riparian buffer of the creek
Courtesy of the Town of Vail

Flylords:

Are there any lessons to be learned from Gore Creek’s story?

Pete Wadden:

Many fly anglers are already aware of the fact that waterways, like Gore Creek, are valuable ecosystems—places with trout, insects, habitat, clean water, and endless other factors that help create a cohesive ecosystem. The biggest takeaway message from Gore Creek’s story is that we need to think of Gore Creek as a holistic ecosystem, not just a channel of water.

Painting of angler wading in Gore Creek, with adult flies flying around.
Courtesy of @mandyhertz_flyart

To learn more about the restoration of Gore Creek, follow along on Instagram @restoregorecreek.

Article written by Flylords Content Team Member Andrew Braker.

Land & Rivers Scholarship Presentation 2020

Sue Nikolai, Land & Rivers Fund Program Director

The Land & Rivers Fund is a collaboration between the Eagle River Watershed Council and the Eagle Valley Land Trust. Both of these nonprofits work every day to conserve, restore and protect land and rivers in Eagle County. For more information, go to landandrivers.org.

This scholarship is for a graduating 2020 senior who will be attending college in the fall and plans to get a degree in the field of natural resources or environmental science.

We invite you to listen in as Sue presents the award to this year’s Land & Rivers Fund recipient.

Q&A with Pete Wadden

Pete Wadden is Town of Vail’s Watershed Education Coordinator. We at Eagle River Watershed Council work with him on a regular basis: we collaborate on everything from educational programming (check out the Sustainable Landscaping Series taking place every Wednesday through May 27; the series is filling in for Lunch with the Locals) to riparian rehabilitation efforts. Kate Isaacson and our loyal volunteers often work alongside Pete with the Town’s Restore the Gore campaign and associated water-quality improvement efforts. And as of March, the Watershed Council also welcomes Pete to our Board of Directors, in which he is active in several committees and a source of experience in water leadership in our region.

We know how active Pete is in our river recreation community and consulted him on a few topics regarding our Peak Flow Prediction Contest. We also took a few minutes to pose a few questions to Pete to find out his take on everything from why runoff is so important to how to get involved in the river community here in the Eagle Valley. Thanks for all your help, Pete!


  • What is the best part of your job working in river education for the Town of Vail? 

I love that my job allows me to help protect and restore an ecosystem I care about. I feel very fortunate to have work that matters and means something to me and that I believe has a positive impact on the environment and our community. It doesn’t hurt that it gets me outside observing the creek, planting trees and enjoying all that our mountain town has to offer.


  •  What role does runoff have in our watershed?

Runoff is everything in the mountains of Colorado! Most of our precipitation in Eagle County falls as snow. That means all the water that human communities and ecological communities rely on is stored in a snowy reservoir that trickles and then rushes down from the mountain peaks each spring. The cycle of runoff drives the life cycles of fish, insects, birds and amphibians. That runoff also carries a lot along with it on its journey downhill. If the roads it flows over have oil and salt on their surfaces, runoff will transport those pollutants into our waterways. Runoff sustains mountain ecosystems and communities all along the Colorado River, through seven American states and a portion of the Republic of Mexico. As a community at the top of an enormous and dynamic watershed, we owe it to our neighbors downstream to be good stewards of this life-giving resource.

Celebrating runoff is the basis of Eagle River Watershed Council’s Peak Flow Prediction Contest. To learn more and participate, check the contest out here! It closes Sunday May 10th.


  • Do you enjoy river recreation and are you part of the river recreation communities outside of work here in the Eagle Valley? 

Water has been at the center of my life since I was a kid. I was an avid sailor and sea kayaker on the Great Lakes as a kid growing up in Ohio. When I moved to Maine for college, I was on the sailing team and began to get into whitewater paddling and fly fishing. In Colorado, the rivers are where the water is. I spend my free time fishing the streams, running the rivers or simply taking them in. The life of our local waterways and the steady advance of spring have brought me a lot of solace in this time of uncertainty and isolation. Our society seems to have hit the pause button, but nature marches on.


  • If people are looking for a way to get into river recreation activities, where or how would you recommend they start? 

There are so many ways and so many opportunities to enjoy and interact with the waterways in our valley! My two favorites, running whitewater and fly fishing, are at opposite ends of the spectrum in some ways, but Eagle County is an international destination for both. Alpine Quest Sports and the Alpine Kayak/ SUP School are great organizations to help you figure out what gear you need to own and skills to develop to run rivers safely. The Alpine Quest used gear swap will begin on May 8 this year and is a great way to find affordable, used gear. Whitewater rafting companies can be a great informational resource and offer a great opportunity to dip your toe in the water for a day.

If you are interested in fishing, the fly guiding shops offer some great opportunities like free fly-tying clinics and free women’s flyfishing clinics. I also find them to be much more forthcoming with information about where to fish and what lures and techniques to use than the stereotype of tight-lipped fly guides would suggest. Spending a day with a professional guide can teach you a lot about fishing. Those guys and gals can help you improve your cast, learn to read water, and learn to identify hatches and select flies accordingly.


Thanks, Pete, for sharing your thoughts with us and for doing all that you do to advocate for our rivers! We’re proud to work alongside you! As a side note, we are proud to partner with Alpine Quest, through the Land & Rivers Fund. If you are interested in trying flyfishing, we recommend checking out Vail Valley Anglers and Minturn Anglers; both are partners in the Watershed Council’s Business Partner Program. Thank you!

To learn more about the Eagle River Watershed Council, our mission and what it means to be an advocate for the rivers, email info@erwc.org. We welcome a conversation with you!

Does Above-Average Snowpack Mean Above-Average Runoff?

Runoff on the Eagle River is a marker of the summer river season here in the Eagle Valley. Snowpack in the mountains, moisture content of watershed soils and spring weather patterns all contribute to the flows we will see during runoff in upcoming weeks or months.

As the majority of us Vail-area locals have hung up our skis for the season and are trading in our boots for our Chacos, we might find ourselves reminiscing on what played out to be a pretty typical snow year – albeit one with a pretty atypical closure of the resorts – and well, everything else. As you may remember, winter started off pretty strong, with heavy storms dropping flakes into February. After a lull, it started back up again – and it kept coming, even as the COVID-19 response shuttered ski areas around the nation.

Efforts to track snowpack do not stop when the resorts close, however. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) program continues well beyond the typical end-of-the-season parties at the top of Chair 4 and even after the main backcountry ski season turns to slush.

Snowpack in the Rocky Mountains acts as a reservoir for replenishing rivers and streams all summer long and into fall, and understanding the link between a healthy snowpack and stream flows is a critical part of forecasting the water outlook months down the road.

Typically, remote sensing data from SNOTEL sites is combined with field data from manual measurements taken on-site, but the COVID-19 response has limited data collection to remote sensing only.

Current provisional SNOTEL data suggests that the current snowpack is hovering at or slightly above average. This is welcomed news for area rafters, kayakers, anglers and for concerns about wildfire risk. However, current snowpack does not tell the full story. It’s important to step back and see the big picture, which includes the soil conditions entering into the winter, before we even tuned our skis in anticipation of the season ahead.

Last fall was a dry one, and our watershed’s soils were thirsty to take in moisture from the melting snowpack. This will likely affect the quantity of water that reaches streams and rivers and may affect streamflows throughout and after runoff.  Our current snowpack is healthy, and that’s a welcomed presence for the months ahead, but it does not necessarily indicate that high flows will be seen. Experts look at snowpack, temperature and soil saturation data to predict when and at what level rivers will peak. The models they are able to create help to inform decisions about the filling and release of reservoirs, management of wildfire risk and more.

The grand prize for the 2020 Peak Flow Prediction Contest is a Jackson Kayak Rockstar 4.0, valued at $1,399.

Eagle River Watershed Council’s second annual Peak Flow Prediction Contest is a great chance to apply your skills – or simply participate and rely on luck. This year, national-level partners generously sponsored the prizes to be awarded, which total more than $4,000 – including a Jackson Kayak Rockstar for the grand prize winner.

To participate, simply purchase your tickets on the Watershed Council website and select your guesses for the date and time of the Eagle River’s peak flow at the Gypsum gauge. The cubic feet per second (CFS) will be the tie-breaker. Ticket sales are currently open, and close at 11:59 pm on May 10. After the chance of a false peak in the flow has passed, the contest winners will be determined.

All proceeds from the contest support the work of Eagle River Watershed Council, ensuring that relevant and accessible river education is available, that rehabilitation projects continue to restore damaged or unhealthy riparian ecosystems and that data can be collected, managed and shared to ensure that responsible decision-making is taking place.

If you have questions about the Peak Flow Prediction contest or any other efforts of the Eagle River Watershed Council, please reach out to Melanie Smith at smith@erwc.org.

Melanie Smith

Melanie Smith is the Development and Communications Coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit erwc.org.

There are local businesses supporting our work that need our help! Here’s how:

The Land & Rivers Fund, a collaboration between EVLT, the Eagle River Watershed Council, and local businesses, relies on contributions made during sales. The effects of COVID-19 public health concerns are especially tough for local businesses.

Here’s a list of local businesses that provide critical support for local conservation via the Land & Rivers Fund – will you help us return the favor? Gift cards are a great way to provide cash flow to local businesses who are temporarily shutting down. Many businesses are also offering unique services and creative ways to support their employees.

For more information about the Land & Rivers Fund, contact Sue Nikolai at sue@landandrivers.org.

Stone Creek Restoration Project – Partner Highlight

EagleVail Metro District completed a restoration project on Stone Creek this fall – the first in a four-phase, ten-year plan.

Eagle River Watershed Council is proud to share stories of successful stream projects and water planning initiatives in our valley. We would like to take a moment to highlight one such restoration project that took place this past fall in EagleVail. The EagleVail Metro District along with its contributing partners successfully completed phase one of the Stone Creek Restoration Project.

Nestled in between the 18-hole golf course and residential community, Stone Creek had been manipulated over the community’s 45-year history and some of those manipulations had impacts on the stream’s health. Brent Barnum, superintendent of golf courses & parks, and Steven Barber, EagleVail Metro District’s manager, took on the task of restoring this beautiful mountain stream. After securing funding from partners and grants for the project, they worked with Scott Schreiber from Wright Water Engineers to assess priorities and create a project plan. The 10-year multi-phase approach will be the guideline for future stream related projects. Phase one priorities included: creating a cohesive flowing waterway with natural features (such as riffles to improve streamflow); improving fish passage; and removing man-made structure. Additionally, the brown trout that reside in this stream will flourish with the creation of new pools for spawning as well as removal of the obstructions preventing them from reaching these areas before. Phase two (slated for 2021) will focus on alluvial ponds (near holes 6 & 11) which have widened, causing temperature-related ecosystem issues. 

Kudos to the EagleVail team for their efforts. For more information about the project – feel free to contact Brent Barnum at bbarnum@eaglevail.org.


Colorado’s mining past and the future of our rivers

Participants of the 2019 Eagle Mine site tour look into the distance, catching views of the former tailings pond turned wetlands, the historic trestle diverting contaminated water for treatment and the engineered consolidated tailings pile — all efforts to restore and protect the river from the Eagle Mine.
Special to the Daily

The history of mining in Colorado is omnipresent. Whether you’re hiking in the backcountry or driving along I-70, you’re bound to come across something related to mining.

The industry, which began when prospectors first discovered gold in 1859 west of Denver, helped the state develop into what we know it as today. When the gold was tapped out, mines changed to a plethora of other materials such as coal, lead, molybdenum and even uranium to keep incomes constant. Of course, not every mine could withstand the test of time. 

Although mining is still active in the state, according to the Colorado Geological Survey there are an estimated 23,000 abandoned mines in the state. Prior to 1977, almost no laws existed in the country that required reclamation of the mines, and no closing procedures were in place. These old mines pose a risk, especially when it comes to water quality.

Eagle County was reminded of our mining history in 1984, after pumps draining the Eagle Mine near Red Cliff were shut off, allowing the mine to flood. As water from snowmelt and rain filled the mine, it dissolved zinc, copper, cadmium, and other heavy metals from the rock. Once the mine completely filled, heavy metal-laden water overflowed into the Eagle River.

The spill turned the river orange and it became uninhabitable by many fish species. Zinc coated the gills of fish, making it impossible for them to breathe. The State of Colorado filed notice and claims against the former mine operator and had the 256-acre mine listed on the National Priorities List as a Superfund site, therefore launching the cleanup process.

During a recent Eagle River Watershed Council tour of the Eagle Mine, representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, and Ramboll, the wastewater treatment plant operator, told participants about restoration efforts in the area and how much progress has been made.

One of the efforts highlighted was the dramatic restoration of a former tailings pond back to the wetlands we see on the west side of Tigiwon Road. The contaminated waste, along with roaster piles and other waste rock that had the potential for acid generation around the site, have been consolidated to an engineered pit and capped with vegetation.

This prevents runoff from mixing with the waste, but also captures any groundwater that may come in contact with the tailings for treatment. The treatment facility, which also receives any water that has come in contact with contamination in the mines, is located just south of this pile. Taking up a relatively small building, the industrial treatment operation has a big job to do, removing 178 pounds of metal from the water per day, and returning 100 million gallons of clean water to the river each year.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the tour was the Eagle Mine Site at Belden, where many participants were wide-eyed and intrigued as they learned about cribbing walls keeping waste rock from entering the river and modern monitoring systems juxtaposed with abandoned buildings. It is here that many of the roaster piles were located, right on the banks of the Eagle River.

Eagle River Watershed Council and other local partners continue to push for real-time monitoring of the site, to warn us of any potential problems or spills in the area. We are pleased to have trust and open dialog with the EPA, CDPHE, the mine owner and its contractors.

Though much has been done and immediate threats to human health and the environment have been mitigated, the cleanup of this mine site and treatment of its contaminated water will go on in perpetuity, as will our need to closely monitor and support the success of cleanup efforts 

The Eagle Mine and its surrounding areas are private property and a Superfund Cleanup site. Please respect this and do not trespass on the property.

James Dilzell is the education and outreach coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit erwc.org.

This article ran in the Vail Daily on September 11, 2019