River at Camp Hale a ‘disaster’ | AspenTimes.com

River at Camp Hale a ‘disaster’

Cliff ThompsonVail correspondent

CAMP HALE – This abandoned World War II training base that was home to the elite 10th Mountain Division is rich in history.It’s also the site of a decades-old man-made environmental mess that the U.S. Forest Service wants to restore. The $2 million to $4 million project is meant to increase the “sinuosity,” or curving, of the south and east forks of the Eagle River that flow through the camp. The project should improve river and wetland wildlife habitat and the quality of the water in the river by increasing the length of the river by nearly a mile and slowing the current. The now channelized river is fouling water with sediment eroding from its steep banks, according to the Forest Service. When Camp Hale was built in 1941-42, Army engineers bulldozed the meandering river, turning it into an arrow-straight drainage ditch. The Army also dumped 270,000 cubic yards of fill – 2,700 dump truck loads – into wetlands and lowlands along the river to help create the facility. They transformed the area from a soggy high-altitude park to dusty upland.”If you look at what was there and what’s there now, it’s the equivalent of an environmental disaster,” said Brian Healy, biologist with Forest Service, which owns Camp Hale. “You have the opportunity to re-create some pretty unique habitat for aquatic species and for terrestrial wildlife.”In proposing the restoration the Forest Service proposal notes: “Severe erosion is occurring where the river is starting to meander with the ditch in some areas. Consequently, aquatic habitat is poor. Noxious weeds have invaded much of the dry upland area that was created when fill was placed in the wetlands and the water table was lowered.” A swampAvon resident Frank Doll, 82, remembers the Camp Hale area before the military base was constructed.”In high water in the spring it would spread out all over the place and get pretty swampy,” he said. “The place was called Pando. They used to cut blocks of ice off the north end of it and use the ice for shipping lettuce from Beaver Creek and produce from the West Coast on the railroad.”If the restoration proceeds as proposed, heavy equipment would excavate a new, more curving river channel following the more or less historic route through the center of Camp Hale. The excavated soil would be spread thinly across adjacent land and also in portions of the existing river channel.Newly created stream banks would be revegetated to increase their durability. With more curves, the river would increase in length from 1.93 miles to 2.81 miles, restoring 136 acres of wetlands.The new river channel would cause the water table to rise, causing upland plants and noxious weeds to be replaced with species more suited to wetlands, the Forest Service report stated.Other environmental benefits would include cooler water, more cover for aquatic animals and more riverside for terrestrial animals, Healy said.The Forest Service’s report said a number of organizations including the Colorado Division of Wildlife, The Eagle River Watershed Council, Trout Unlimited, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, 10th Mountain Division, Army Corps of Engineers and other organizations are interested in the project.

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