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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!

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.


Local river lover wins a Rocky Mountain Raft for peak flow prediction

John Christensen Wins Raft

Eagle River Watershed Council’s inaugural Peak Flow Prediction contest provided the opportunity to win a Rocky Mountain Raft for anyone who could correctly guess the date of the Eagle River’s peak.

With all of the late snow, cooler early summer temperatures and rain, runoff in the Eagle was prolonged and the peak was later this year than typical, peaking on July 1 at 11 a.m. with a flow of 7,480 cubic feet per second.

The contest had just short of 150 guesses submitted. The contestants had varying knowledge and experience — some drawing on years of data available online, others on gut extinct. However, the majority guessed that flows would peak around the first two weeks of June with flows between 4000 and 6000 cfs at the Gypsum gauge.

In a typical year, one of those guesses might have been the winner, but this year was anything but typical. The winner was the contestant that made the latest guess of June 29 — Jon Christensen of Eagle.

Another contestant guessed June 29 so the tie-breakers of time and flow had to be used to determine Timm Paxson of Vail as the runner-up. Paxson will enjoy a three-day canoe trip for two with Centennial Canoe Outfitters. The third-place winner, Jill Kelsall of Avon, walks away with a $500 dining certificate from Vail Resorts.

Like many of the winners, Kelsall made three guesses and also walked away the winner of fifth place, which was three dry bags from Sea to Summit. Joe Robinson of Edwards took home an Orvis backpack for the fourth-place guess and Gary Brooks grabbed the sixth place prize of two REI day packs.
In a release, Watershed Council executive director Holly Loff said, “This contest was a lot of fun, people really got into it. And it raised over $2,000 for our outreach programs and stream restoration projects. Thanks to everyone that participated.”

The Watershed Council plans to run the contest again next April. Contest information will be announced in their newsletter, The Current, in the spring. Registration for the newsletter is free online at erwc.org.

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 www.erwc.org.

This article ran in the Vail Daily on July 17, 2019.

Community rallies to get tires out of Eagle River

We have come a long way in how we care for our rivers. Before the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, it was common to dump chemicals, trash, and waste into our rivers.

In fact, as recently as the 1940s and 50s, Minturn’s outhouses famously emptied directly into the Eagle River. The Eagle River also suffered from the tailings and contaminated water dumped directly into the river from operations at the Eagle Mine long before the mine overflowed and turned the river orange in the 80s, leading to the creation of the current Superfund site.

Humans both revere our rivers and try to bend them to our will. A good local example is at Camp Hale, where we straightened the curves of the river with tons of fill to fit its military operations, only to try to restore the ecosystem back to health with the original twists and turns today. One of the historic ways used to try to stabilize riverbanks was — believe it or not— with tires.

Today, we recognize better success with native riparian plants and their long and sturdy root structure, large boulders, and increased community education on the importance of these sensitive and critical areas where the land meets the river.

As a result of these old riverbank stabilizing practices, as well as the ignorant dumping of tires into the river, there is an undeniable tire pollution problem in the Eagle River. These tires collect near the confluence with Lake Creek in Edwards as the river abruptly slows in this area.

In fact, the 77-mile-long Eagle River drops 2,400 feet over its first 39 miles, but only descends 600 feet over the next 38 miles. The river faces a slight uphill near Lake Creek and is essentially an online pond where the tires were recovered. The decrease in slope and speed allows for anything being carried by the fast current upstream, such as tires, to drop down to the bottom of the riverbed.

The historically low flows last year revealed a shocking amount of tires lining the bed of the Eagle River right below the confluence with Lake Creek in Edwards. Thanks to the initiative of then-6-year-old Suri Raol, an effort to remove these tires from the river was set into motion.

After several years of communicating with authorities and working on best removal practices, Suri and her parents, Vik and Susan Raol, and their neighbors, Greg and Stephanie Keough, collected over 200 tires from the river bed. Their hard work culminated on April 13 when 30 local volunteers came out to remove the tires from the bar they had been stashed on and transported them to a staging location to be recycled by the Tires4Ward program through Bridgestone Tires.

Along with the tires removed from the river, another set of tires that was diligently collected by Eagle County staff during a recent Lake Creek Village community cleanup effort brought the total number of tires to be recycled to approximately 350.

What effect do degrading tires have on our aquatic ecosystems? The breakdown of rubber in our rivers changes the biochemistry of the water, negatively affecting our aquatic life. When the sun hits the tires, they release chemicals such as PCBs, PETs, DEHPs, antimicrobials, and bioretardants, which are then consumed by the food chain.

How can you help? First, recycle your tires properly. You can find details on how to do this with the help of one of our partners, Walking Mountains Science Center, here. If you see someone dumping tires illegally into the river, you can call (970) 328-8758.

Finally, we encourage you to get involved. The Watershed Council hosts the annual Community Pride Highway Cleanup in the spring and the Eagle River Cleanup in the fall, which are great ways to get out with your friends and family and clean tires and other trash out of our roadways and rivers! Find more information on our volunteer programs at http://www.erwc.org

Kate Isaacson is the Projects & Events 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 www.erwc.org.

This article ran in the Vail Daily on June 13, 2019.