Commissioners take look at Roaring Fork east of Aspen |

Commissioners take look at Roaring Fork east of Aspen

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – If the proposed restoration of a stretch of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen is done properly, it will be difficult to see that anything was done at all, consultants told Pitkin County commissioners during a site visit Monday.

Commissioners, county staffers and a couple of neighboring residents tromped through the grass and mud along about a half-mile stretch of the river to see, first hand, the condition of the river where four property owners – including the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and Aspen Valley Land Trust – are seeking approval to alter the streambed and shore up eroding areas of the bank.

“This is a stretch of river that has been degraded,” said Tom Cardamone, ACES executive director.

One long, straight stretch in particular, where the river is a uniform depth and quite shallow in late summer, would gain riffles and pools to improve the trout habitat, explained Mike Claffey of Fruita-based Claffey Ecological Consulting Inc. An island formed by the buildup of sediment would be reshaped to match what can be seen in a 1968 aerial photo, he said.

Agricultural operations in the early part of the last century may be to blame for the straightening of the channel, according to Claffey. Because water moves slowly through the stretch, it has also filled in with silt and sand. Transmountain diversions don’t allow the full impact of a spring runoff to scour the riverbed, compounding the problem.

“Dead, flat water in the mid- to late summer is not great trout habitat,” Claffey said.

Commissioners were shown an upstream section where restoration work was completed several years ago for another landowner; the gravel bars and riffles appear to be natural.

“People have said, well, this is a rich guy wanting to stock trout,” Claffey said, but he pointed out the involvement of ACES and the land trust, and assured commissioners his current clients – landowner Ed Bass (Mountain Valley Cabin LLC) and Fall Line Properties LCC – don’t want to stock trout in the river.

Commissioners pointedly asked about the removal of beavers from the river section above the proposed project; it was the work of that landowner, not the team who worked on the restoration, they were told.

Commissioner Rachel Richards asked to be provided before and after photos of the already restored section when commissioners take up the application later this month.

If it’s approved, the project will take two to three weeks, to be done when summer flows in the river drop. All of the work would be done from within the river channel in order not to disturb the banks, Claffey said.

There will be temporary disturbance to wildlife, he conceded.

The stretch of river slated for the work flows through private property and then past the AVLT and ACES land, which is not accessible, but the public can float the section, and beginner paddlers like it, said consultant Matt Weaver of Five Rivers Inc. of Bozeman, Mont. The proposed work will allow the water to move a little faster, but it shouldn’t trouble novice kayakers.

“It’s not going from Class zero to Class 5,” he assured commissioners.

The restoration plan is scheduled to go before commissioners for formal review on June 24.

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