Piney River rehab planned near Vail |

Piney River rehab planned near Vail

Matt Terrell
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Theo Stroomer/Vail DailyTo mitigate the effects of campers, the Forest Service is planning on restoring a portion of the Piney River near Vail.

VAIL, Colo. ” A major restoration is being planned for the Piney River north of Vail, a popular hiking, camping and fishing area which for years has been damaged by a string of campsites built too close to the water.

The area needing work is a two-mile stretch beginning where the Piney River flows out of Piney Lake. Some 28 campsites have sprung up over the years, carved out by campers.

About 22 of those campsites are within 100 feet of the water, in violation of U.S. Forest Service rules. Campsites that close to the water can cause erosion and cause sediment to end up in the river, which isn’t good for fish and insects, said Brian Healy, a fisheries biologist with the Forest Service.

With campers also comes campfires, and for years, people have been hacking away at nearby trees for firewood. The problem is that branches, leaves and logs are actually good things to have fall in the water. When people take them away, it affects the river, Healy explained.

Leaves sort of jump-start the ecosystem. Small insects eat the leaves, fish eat the insects, the big fish eat the little fish, and so on.

“It’s an important part of the food web,” Healy said.

Logs in the water also help create slow moving pools during the winter, which give fish a safer, more comfortable place to stay, Healy said.

“Logs like that slow down the water velocity, so fish spend less energy there holding position in the stream, which is good in winter,” Healy said. “It also helps them avoid predators.”

Nearby trees also provide shade, moderate water temperatures and reduce algae growth, Healy said.

Restoration will involve revegetating the trampled campsites that are too close to the water, closing them to campers and building new, proper campsites farther away from the river.

“We’re trying to protect the streambank,” Healy said. “We’re trying to move those campgrounds and better manage the area.”

The Forest Service will place beetle-killed pine trees (which there are plenty of nearby) in the river to recreate the pools and insect habitats that would have naturally been created by fallen logs in the river.

Willow shoots and trees will also be planted in the area, which should eventually add back the shade and fallen wood that’s so important to a river.

Dan Corban, who was camping near the Piney River recently, said restoring the area sounds like a good idea.

“I love coming here,” Corban said. “Anything that will make it nicer is fine with me,”

Restoration work on the Piney River could begin as soon as this fall, but there’s a possibility work will be delayed until next year, the Forest Service said.

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