Agencies ponder Lower Blue usage cap
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
SUMMIT COUNTY ” After two years of behind-the-scenes work, key stakeholders along the Lower Blue north of Green Mountain Reservoir want public input on the best way to control use for the 15-mile river corridor.
The reach extends north from the reservoir to the confluence with the Colorado River near Kremmling. Recreational users, private landowners along the river, along with the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Bureau of Reclamation and Summit and Grand counties all have a stake in the outcome of the planning effort.
The corridor is home to river otters, elk, moose, deer, mountain lions, bobcats, trout black bears, golden eagles and noetropical migratory birds. Growing use by rafters, kayakers and anglers is affecting natural resources and the user experience, said County Commissioner Tom Long. He identified overcrowding, competition among user groups, trespassers and access points as key issues.
Recreation has already had detrimental impacts to natural resources and created conflicts with private landowners, according to the draft management plan that’s up for review. At times, a steady stream of boaters in the river is negatively affecting anglers along the banks, some stakeholders said during a recent meeting.
Private land accounts for about 70 percent of the riverbed and banks along the reach.
The draft plan suggests that private landowners are carrying an undue burden when it comes to investing in management of the corridor.
Private landowners have restored 7.5 miles of fish habitat in the river by restoring side channels and oxbows, and recreating natural riparian and wetland areas from agricultural land. Those efforts have increased fish production on the private lands from 30-70 pounds per acre to 200-300 pounds per acre.
Unpermitted, rogue guiding on that reach of the Blue River is another potential source of conflict, according to the draft plan.
“Green Mountain Canyon is a pretty unique place. It’s a gem. We don’t want it to be an amusement park,” said Perry Handyside, manager of the upscale Blue Valley Ranch.
Potential management options for the canyon include a permit system and seasonal restrictions on different activities. But the land managers and property owners who have been developing the draft plan won’t finalize any options until they’ve heard from interest citizens.
The draft version of the plan includes a complex graph showing streamflows and critical times for different types of wildlife, including trout spawning season, bald eagle nesting times and river otter mating and birthing seasons.
That matrix is intended to provide baseline data on how to preserve both the natural resources and the recreational experience. The canyon holds and outstanding fishery, habitat for many other land and bird species and provides opportunities for fishing, kayaking and nature-watching.
In the end, it might boil down to what sort of restrictions the public will accept in order to preserve those values, said outgoing Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton.
The goal is to develop a collective management approach, perhaps designating a river manager to implement the management plan, once it’s adopted, Newton said.
According to a recent Bureau of Land Management study, the Lower Blue could also be eligible for wild and scenic river designation. That status would give the river a high level of protection, but could also increase recreational pressure.
“We’d like to implement a plan before we have to … without taking anything away from anybody. That’s the philosophical goal of the stakeholders,” said Handyside, outlining the group’s tall order.
What: Meetings to present a draft management plan and take public input.
When: 7-10 p.m. on Tuesday.
Where: North Branch library in Silverthorne and
When: 5-8 p.m. on Wednesday
Where: The Chamber of Commerce in Kremmling.
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