Volunteers help restore Aspen’s North Star preserve
Nature got helping hands Saturday from about 55 volunteers at the North Star Nature Preserve east of Aspen.
Crews coordinated by the Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers planted about 1,200 willow and cottonwood seedlings and clippings along the banks of the Roaring Fork River. The targeted areas were devoid of natural vegetation due to efforts decades ago to make it more productive as cow pastures and hay fields, according to Gary Tennenbaum, assistant director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. Saturday’s project was designed to restore vegetation along about 500 linear feet of the river.
Workers started in frigid temperatures at 8:30 a.m. and were stripping off layers of clothes in the heat by 11:30 on a picture-perfect day.
“You can look right across the river and see what the (riverbank) should look like,” said Cedric Campinos of Frederick, Maryland, who was part of a crew of 17 volunteers from the Colorado Outward Bound School in Marble. Campinos is in a 30-day program at the school for 17- to 23-year-olds. Working on service projects was among the activities.
Volunteers of all ages worked the project. Ned Sullivan of Aspen was among the older volunteers. He said he appreciates the nature preserve, so he decided to help out Saturday. He said he “wanders through” North Star a couple times per year to see nature at its finest and spot signs of wildlife.
It’s just nice to walk through here,” he said while on a break from planting seedlings.
Justin Knapp organized five colleagues from Blue Green Vacations, owner of the Innsbruck Inn at Aspen. The company supports environmental initiatives and pays employees to volunteer on two service days per year.
“This is where we could get the most people,” Knapp said.
One of his colleagues added, “We love the outdoors, too.”
Nate Tattersall of Snowmass Village volunteered his time “just to stay involved in the community.” Given the low temperatures to start the day, he was thinking the ground might be hard to dig, but the sun hit the sandy soil early in the morning and created perfect working conditions, he said.
Tennenbaum said the project was more than an aesthetic improvement. The denuded riverbanks were more susceptible to erosion. The river is threatening to destabilize the soil around a stand of mature cottonwoods. The river will still eat away at the bank, but at a much slower pace, he said.
All the seedlings and cuttings used for the project were taken from North Star. Cuttings from willows were taken from the property, planted in 650 containers and grown at a nursery for about four months, according to Randy Mandel of Golder Associates, which helped Pitkin County Open Space and Trails plan the project. The tiny plants had leaves Saturday and will likely have a survival rate of 75 to 80 percent, he said.
Larger willow stakes were being cut and planted at the site Saturday. They will have about a 50 percent survival rate, Mandel said.
“The important thing is we’re preserving the local genetics,” Mandel said.
David Hamilton, executive director of Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, said crews were laying down an organic fiber called jute 10 to 15 feet back from the riverbank to help with stabilization, digging holes, putting in stakes and then planting and watering the willows and cottonwoods. The area was seeded at the end of the day.
Volunteers were fed lunch and dinner.
“We were really looking for even more people today,” Hamilton said, citing the popularity of the North Star Nature Preserve and public participation this summer in a long-term management plan.
Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers has done about 10 prior wetlands restoration projects, so it has learned best practices, Hamilton said. The North Star work was the second-to-last project on the nonprofit organization’s list this year. It coordinated about 2,700 volunteers over 140 days. The North Star project was one where participants were able to bring their children. The youth coordinator kept them busy with age-appropriate tasks while parents worked.
Wetlands restoration isn’t as physically demanding on volunteers as building a trail.
“Swinging a Pulaski all day will take it out of you,” Hamilton said, referring to the long-handled tool with a pick on one side of the head and an ax on the other.
Nevertheless, the wetlands restoration is as important as anything the organization does, he said. The 55 volunteers will know they played a part in restoring North Star’s habitat.
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Former race-car driver, current Lewis Cellars winemaker Randy Lewis hosts Aspen dinner alongside chef Byron Gomez as part of the “Aspen Summer Supper Club Series” at 7908.