Summit County Government

Posted on: March 24, 2015

Summit County Receives $975,000 for Swan River Restoration

Photo of a valley floor covered in large piles of rock.

Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Basin Roundtable provide funds for stream restoration project to address historical mining impacts

Contact:
Jason Lederer, Summit County Open Space & Trails
970-668-4213, jlederer@co.summit.co.us

SUMMIT COUNTY, CO – The Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Basin Roundtable together awarded a $975,000 Water Supply Reserve Account Grant to Summit County in support of a large-scale stream restoration project on the Swan River.

The restoration area includes approximately 3,500 linear feet of the river along Tiger Road in the Swan River drainage, 11 miles northeast of Breckenridge, on land jointly owned by Summit County and the Town of Breckenridge.

“We’re extremely fortunate and grateful to have received this grant,” County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. “Undoing the damage from Summit County’s mining past is an immense undertaking, but these infusions of funding are critical in accelerating our progress.”

Summit County has a long and prolific mining history. Several valleys in southern Summit County’s Upper Blue River watershed, including the Swan River valley, were dredge-mined for precious metals in the early 1900s. Scars from this mining past are scattered in valleys where dredge boats sucked up sediment from depths of up to 70 feet, casting aside rock and other material, effectively turning the rivers upside down. Today, vast expanses of dredge piles remain.

As an abandoned dredge mine site, the Swan River provides little in the way of ecological, recreational, or aesthetic value. Much of the valley floor is covered with large piles of barren cobble. What remains of the stream channel follows a straight ditch paralleling Tiger Road, where flows only occur during periods of high water and remain subsurface for much of the year. Recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat value are almost non-existent, despite the fact that the three forks of the Swan River upstream of this site are an extremely popular year-round recreation area.

In partnership with the Town of Breckenridge, this initial phase of restoration work will contribute to the overarching goal of restoring the ecological integrity of the entire Swan River watershed by reconnecting more than 19 miles of stream and riparian areas now segregated by dredge piles. Upstream stretches of the Swan River pass through private land, and the Forest Service is coordinating with landowners to implement restoration work in those areas.

“When the County and Town purchased land in the Swan River valley, our goals were to restore the natural ecology of the stream and to enhance recreational opportunities,” Summit County Open Space and Trails Director Brian Lorch said. “Much of the overall project’s success is due to strong partnerships with project stakeholders and the support we receive from those in our community who care so much about this special place.”

The project team aims to create a natural and stable river channel meandering though a mosaic of wetland, riparian and upland habitats, similar to what would have existed prior to dredge mining. The restored channel and adjacent areas will provide a variety of habitat features for fish, mammals, insects and other native species.

One of the long-term project goals is to expand the habitat for native Colorado cutthroat trout. Improved stream crossings will be installed at Muggins Gulch Road, Tiger Road and Rock Island Road to better facilitate natural stream flow of the new channel and to reduce the number and severity of flooding events. The restoration plan also includes a new soft-surface trail that will provide access to the adjacent White River National Forest and restored stream. Total project costs are estimated to be about $2 million.

The project planning has been a highly collaborative effort, with significant public involvement and partnerships and consultation with state and local governments and private entities. In addition to the County and Town, active participants in the project planning and funding include the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Trout Unlimited, Blue River Watershed Group, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District and the National Forest Foundation.

“With their recent significant funding support, Colorado Water Conservation Board staff will also assume an active role in this project,” Summit County Open Space and Trails Resource Specialist Jason Lederer said. “We very much appreciate their financial support and the technical expertise they bring to this project.”

The Swan River restoration project is funded through a variety of sources, including previous grant funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board that aided in planning phases. This year’s work will receive $300,000 in support from the Summit County Safety First Fund, approved by voters in November 2014. The Safety First funding was critical in leveraging funds from CWCB. Trout Unlimited will soon launch a project website that will enable members of the public to contribute to the river’s restoration.

For more information, contact Jason Lederer at the Summit County Open Space and Trails Department at 970-668-4213 or jlederer@co.summit.co.us.

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