Stagecoach tailwaters receive face-lift | CraigDailyPress.com

Stagecoach tailwaters receive face-lift

— A popular fly-fishing stream at the tailwaters of Stagecoach Reservoir received the finishing touches of a complete restoration during the weekend as part of a project by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Heavy use by fishermen throughout the years had adversely impacted the riparian habitat alongside the creek that runs from Stagecoach Reservoir, causing erosion, a lack of riparian vegetation and the widening of the stream, all of which aren’t great for fish, according to Billy Atkinson, an aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

"Most anglers don’t realize what walking through a patch of vegetation could cause," said Atkinson, who helped spearhead the restoration project. "A lot of people don’t really understand the connection between a healthy riparian zone and a healthy fishery."

The restoration project has been in the works for more than three years and involved the use of heavy machinery to re-contour the stream to be narrower, to avoid having areas where the water could be too shallow for fish to live.

Once the stream was back to its usual width, fencing was put up to block off areas where new vegetation would be planted and to herd anglers into designated walkways to the shore.

Atkinson said heavy use in the area by about 30,000 to 40,000 visitors per year had left minimal vegetation along the creek.

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"We had lost that healthy riparian corridor," Atkinson said. "When we lose that vegetation, you lose the structure of the bank."

This past weekend, about 15 volunteers per day — including those with Yampa Valley Fly Fishers — helped plant new willow and alder trees along the banks of the stream.

"We’re trying to get the vegetation to come back," said Chris Ricks, a Sunday volunteer and the treasurer of Yampa Valley Fly Fishers.

"These are specific riparian plants for this region," Atkinson said. "They will provide good shade and habitat for birds. And the root system will keep the stream bank grounded."

The state project was funded primarily through grants and totaled about $140,000, Atkinson said, not including significant in-kind donations and volunteer time.

Plants first were planted in a nursery in the spring and grew during the summer until they were transplanted along the stream this past weekend. Fencing around the new vegetation will stay up for the foreseeable future, keeping anglers off the new plants.

"The fencing will stay in place to protect these riparian zones," Atkinson said.

Riverkeeper Bill Chace was volunteering Sunday and said the project is an example of what can be accomplished to protect and repair riparian habitats.

"This can set a new standard for what we can do," Chace said. "We have a strong channel now, and we have a strong riparian area."

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow