With the help of schools, businesses and community groups, the Eagle River Watershed Council is in the eighth and final year of community-based restoration along the Eagle River west of Edwards.

Beginning in 2008, the Eagle River Restoration Project in Edwards set out to improve the health and function of the aquatic and riparian habitat of a 1.6-mile stretch of river. The ultimate goal was to reconnect higher quality aquatic systems above and below this section.

The site was one of several identified as high priority for restoration in the Eagle River Inventory and Assessment. Published in 2005, the Eagle River Inventory and Assessment developed a “baseline inventory and assessment of the 110 miles of the main stem and lower tributaries of the Eagle River (and developed) a set of recommendations to efficiently guide future river conservation work.” The goals of this project were to narrow the over-widened channel, reduce temperatures during low-flow periods, increase the dissolved oxygen and the flushing of fine sediment, improve the riparian habitat through the planting of appropriate native plant communities and improve recreation access.

During the first two years, river rock and cobble were added to the river bed to narrow and therefore deepen the stream bed and increase slight sinuosity. The results included slightly higher flows that increased flushing of fine sediments, reduced water temperatures during low-flow periods and increased dissolved oxygen levels. The first phase of revegetation began in 2009 with the planting of willows and narrowleaf cottonwoods. Over the next six years, from 2009 to 2014, a diverse selection of over 18,000 shrubs and trees were installed along this stretch with the help of hundreds of volunteers.

The final phase in 2014 and 2015 includes a variety of wrap-up maintenance activities. The main goals have been to remove protective tree cages that established cottonwoods have outgrown, apply a sandy latex paint that will further deter beaver predation for another one to two years, and remove non-native invasive vegetation. There were nearly 500 trees planted throughout the corridor whose protective caging needed to be removed.

Five very enthusiastic and productive community groups joined the Eagle River Watershed Council’s staff this spring to learn about river ecosystems and the effort it takes to improve habitat and ecological functions of the system. Nearly 100 volunteers, ranging from first-graders to adults, cut, dug, carefully removed cages around each tree, and improved their painting skills applying sandy paint to the trunks of each tree throughout April and early May.

Thank you, Brownie Troop 50852, Homestake Peak Middle School, Eagle Valley and Red Canyon High Schools, and the staff from One Willow Bridge Group! Your hard work and dedication have made a big difference!

Beginning June 25, the Eagle River Watershed Council will be hosting a morning volunteer program every second and fourth Thursday throughout the summer. This program will engage the community in protecting our river ecosystems through invasive plant removal and native tree planting. To find out more information about how your business, school, or organization can volunteer with the Watershed Council, visit www.erwc.org or call us at 970-827-5406. We hope to see you on the river this summer!

Doug Serrill is the Project & Events Coordinator for the 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 May 27, 2015.