Hardy volunteers needed for fence work on Independence | AspenTimes.com

Hardy volunteers needed for fence work on Independence

What remains of a snow fence stands along the ridgeline at Independence Pass. Piles of old and demolished fences are said to be killing the tundra vegetation. Paul Conrad photo.

A hardy group of volunteers is needed on top of Independence Pass this Saturday to remove pieces of a defunct fence harming the delicate tundra vegetation.

Snow fences, which were installed atop the pass in the 1960s as part of a U.S. Forest Service research project, are still on a ridge at 12,500 feet. The project was long ago deemed a failure.

According to Delia Malone of the Independence Pass Foundation, hundreds of meters of fencing were originally set up to collect snowfall, which hopefully would melt off into Twin Lakes and increase the water supply for the spring. Unfortunately, the project proved the method did almost exactly the opposite, increasing erosion while boosting water levels only briefly.

The vegetation that died off under the snow is instrumental in allowing runoff to soak in, keeping streams full during low flow, Malone said. Bob Lewis, founder of the Independence Pass Foundation and a valley resident since 1951, watched the project take out slow-growing vegetation in the area.

“The greed for more water in Denver resulted in the loss of thousands of tundra plants,” Lewis said. “When this was discovered, it was reported to the Forest Service what was happening, and the Forest Service realized they had made a mistake.”

In some places, the fence piled snow up to 15 feet high. When it didn’t melt in the spring and summer, the plants were unable to carry out their cycle, and some could not be pollinated by insects. Eventually plants just died.

Without the plants, erosion of the land followed. While the Forest Service was quick to rectify the snowpack problem by taking down part of the snow fence, the metal rails that made up the fence still lie around the area.

Since the tundra vegetation is fragile, the plants continue to struggle without sunlight beneath the remains of the fences. Without removal of the scrap metal, the problem persists.

Volunteers this Saturday are asked to be at the top of Independence Pass at 9 a.m. and to wear warm clothes and work gloves. Some of the fence remains will be carried down the ridge to a place where a helicopter can pick up the scrap.

The project has been ongoing for the past six or seven years, as testimony to just how large the fence was.

“If you live here for the next 20 years, you’ll hear about this project,” Malone said. “It’s a very long-term project ? that’s how much fencing is up there.”

In past years the National Guard and the Aspen Skiing Co. have flown helicopters to the area to pick up the scrap metal. The Pass Foundation has not yet arranged for a helicopter this time, which is why the fence remnants will be placed in a staging area until they can be picked up.

“We need people in good shape, since they’re going to be working at 12,500 feet,” Lewis said.”There’s definitely enough work up there to keep you busy for the day.”

For more information, contact Delia Malone at 925-4281 or Heather Hopton at 925-1511.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]

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