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Environment: Ambitious Swan River restoration project near Breckenridge could benefit cutthroat trout

Forest Service wants to reconnect an aquatic ecosystem that was sliced apart by dredges in the mining era

Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado.

Restoration plans are afoot for a degraded section of the Swan River, in Summit County, Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For all the gold Summit County’s old-timers managed to pull from local mountains and rivers, they left behind quite a mess. Along with toxic pollution oozing into rivers from some abandoned mines, other streams were turned completely inside-out, buried under tons of gravel.

That includes the Swan River, near Breckenridge, where the U.S. Forest Service now hopes to reverse some of the damage with an ambitious five- to 10-year restoration project.

The Forest Service aims to recreate of two miles of stream, riparian, and restore uplands that were all destroyed by the dredge boats. The agency also wants to decommission some roads in the area, build a new road and trail, all within a mix ownership of private, county, town, and national forest lands. Another element of the project would create fish barriers to protect populations of cutthroat trout.

The stream and riparian restoration, as well as new trail construction on private lands would be within public access easements granted to the USDA Forest Service. The project is located along Tiger Road in Summit County, which can be accessed on the southeast side of Highway 9. A notice of proposed action is available on-line at: http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php/?project=40988.

Reconnecting the three main forks of the Swan River would provide an opportunity to restore a meta-population of native cutthroat trout and restore more than 17 miles of hydrologic function. The project would also create two new miles of stream available for public use which would be restricted to summer and winter non-motorized, non-mechanical use, and prohibit camping and the use of firearms.

A team of natural resource specialists will be analyzing the potential environmental effects of the Swan River Stream Restoration proposal including impacts to special status wildlife and botanical species, historic/prehistoric sites, aesthetics, hydrology, and soils in an Environmental Assessment.

A collaborative planning effort has been ongoing for this project for the past three years. Partners and stakeholders include: Summit County government, Town of Breckenridge, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, Blue River Watershed Group, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, Rock Island Land Company, LLC, Holt Investment Family Limited Partnerships, Everist Materials, LLC, and the Dillon Ranger District of the USDA Forest Service.

Construction could begin in June of 2014, pending adequate funding. The formal comment period is over, but here’s the contact info:

Written comments must be submitted to: Scott Fitzwilliams, Forest Supervisor, c/o Peech Keller, US Forest Service, P O Box 620, Silverthorne, CO 80498.

Hand-delivered comments may be submitted at the Dillon Ranger District between the hours of 8:00-4:30 Mon-Fri, excluding holidays. Electronic comments including attachments can be submitted to: https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?Project=40988.

For additional information, contact Corey Lewellen, Fish Biologist, Dillon Ranger District, at (970) 262-3497.

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