Roaring Fork River near Aspen will see restoration work |

Roaring Fork River near Aspen will see restoration work

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesPitkin County commissioners and others viewed an already restored stretch of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen last week. On Wednesday, commissioners OK'd a plan to restore 1.5 miles of the river downstream of this meander.

ASPEN – Plans to dredge a slow, flat stretch of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen won approval from Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday, but they put limits on how much nature can be manipulated. There will be no trapping or killing beavers, or stocking trout in the restored waterway, for example.

The project, put forth by two private landowners and two nonprofits – the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and Aspen Valley Land Trust – will involve repair to eroded riverbanks and dredging silted sections of the river. Pools and riffles will be created to improve the river ecology and trout habitat.

Part of the river in the 1.5-mile stretch was apparently straightened decades ago, and upstream, transmountain diversions prevent the normal flows and spring flooding that would naturally flush the river, consultants and county staffers have concluded.

While four commissioners voted to allow the man-made attempt to repair the river, Commissioner Michael Owsley balked at allowing a wealthy landowner to step in rather than letting nature take its course.

“I just don’t want to open the door to every private property owner saying, ‘I have a degraded stream,'” he said. “I’m perfectly content to let them heal themselves. What’s the argument for not doing that?”

“I would say the river will not heal itself in our lifetimes or in the lifetimes of our children or our grandchildren,” responded landowner Ed Bass, who is spearheading the project.

Most commissioners apparently agreed with that assessment.

“I would not feel satisfied saying, well, what’s been done can’t be undone,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards. “I want to see us finding ways to naturalize within an altered environment.”

“First, do no harm, but that doesn’t mean do nothing,” Commissioner George Newman added.

However, commissioners placed a host of conditions on the project. They made it clear that beavers and muskrats must be left alone, after being told that a different landowner, who undertook a previous restoration project upstream, had beavers removed from that stretch of river.

In addition, the applicants aren’t allowed to stock fish in the reach or install mechanical fish-feeding devices, which also occurred on the upper stretch, neighbors claimed.

“We’re not creating a trout park,” said Mike Claffey of Claffey Ecological Consulting, Inc., representing the applicants.

The river must be kept open for anyone floating the stretch during the work, disturbed bank areas must be revegetated, sediments are to be contained and the work must be done within a three-week period between Aug. 1 and Oct. 1. The project will be timed to avoid spawning season for brown trout, consultants said.

The resolution approved by commissioners also makes clear their action does not constitute approval for a private fishing club or commercial use.

No members of the general public spoke for or against the plan at Wednesday’s hearing; Bass assured commissioners his goal is merely to improve the river ecosystem.

“The fish population will be increased, we think, and all the people floating will be able to angle for those fish, as I will, though I’m not a fanatical fisherman,” he said. “I’ve only fished this river once.”

While the stretch of river is inaccessible to the public except via kayak, canoe or some other craft, there’s no intent to keep people from floating through, Bass added.

“Nobody’s going to close the river or try to chase people off the river,” he said.

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