“I didn’t know that Trout Unlimited did that!” was the phrase I heard mentioned by a couple of students and professors during a recent tour I conducted of the Kerber Creek restoration project. The tour focused on various stream restoration projects and techniques that have we've been working on since 2008. Students from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and Colorado College visited Kerber Creek outside of Villa Grove, Colo.as part of their course curriculum.
I started the tour at the Cocomongo Mill/Mine in the upper watershed, which provided a good representation of where and how historic mining operations took place as well as the mine wastes/tailings commonly left behind. I explained the mining and milling processes and provided background information about the Bonanza Mining District. The setting included a large mill structure surrounded by piles of multicolored mine wastes within the Kerber Creek corridor.
The next stop was near the confluence of Brewery Creek and Kerber Creek where 32 in-stream rock structures and over two acres of mine waste reclamation had taken place last year. The bank stabilization work and installation of these structures helped improve the brook trout habitat in the stream by creating several pool-riffle-pool sequences, providing cover, and reducing the potential for sediment loading. Though there’s not much public fishing access in the watershed, the work we have done since 2008 has allowed for establishment of a reproducing brook trout population. Fish shocking numbers have shown increases, and local landowner observations have noted higher numbers of fish. So, maybe in the future, there will be more public fishing access and increased fishing opportunities.
This site showcased what is possible when local stakeholders work together with government agencies and non-profit organizations.
On the way down through the watershed, we stopped at several sites, such as the repository that was completed in 1999, as well as past and future locations that exemplify the work accomplished through the Bonanza Stakeholder Group partnership. The partnership is a collaboration of 16 federal, state, and local agencies, non-profit groups and more than 20 local landowners.
The final stop was at one of the largest private landowners in the lower watershed where work is taking place this fall. This site provided examples of existing mine waste deposits that were distributed throughout the floodplains during high flow events when tailing dams were breached in the 1900s. The toxic mine waste deposits contain little to no vegetation and cannot sustain the high flows associated with spring runoff and summer storm periods. This leads to unstable banks that erode, widening the stream and eventually disconnecting the floodplain from the stream.
Conditions present at this site provided the students with a “before and after” glimpse of stream restoration. The entire site was walked from the degraded section, downstream to a recently restored segment that included in-stream rock structures and willow transplants. I could tell that the students were genuinely interested in the project and excited to be in the field observing actual conditions. The tour concluded with a question and answersession. Each correct answer yielded praise from fellow students and the grand prize of a TU t-shirt.
I want to thank both programs of CC and UCCS for the opportunity to help educate and inform the students about the importance of preserving our local ecosystems and watersheds. If the group that attended this tour is any indication of the quality of future ecologists, engineers, biologists, and scientists then I feel inclined to say that successful efforts to conserve, protect, and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds should continue for years to come.
--Jason Willis, Mine Restoration Field Coordinator