Rocky Mountain Flycasters’ Conservation News and Projects
Rocky Mountain Flycasters projects are categorized as either Boots-on-the-Ground projects or Advocacy Activities. Projects usually involve a relationship with a government or non-profit entity that owns or manages specific natural resources. The relationship may be long-term or short-term. The projects that are approved by the RMF chapter leadership must be consistent with our mission to Protect, Reconnect, Restore and Sustain cold-water resources and their watersheds. The following examples are labeled using these categories.
Advocacy activities typically are issues of public policy or relate to TU and RMF missions and goals. Advocacy activities typically involve submitting documents or comments to government authorities. RMF’s strategy in advocacy matters follows the TU model i.e., to utilize science-based evidence of impacts on cold-water resources and collaborative solutions rather than litigation.
Boots on the Ground Projects - click on an item for more detailed information)
Cache la Poudre River Basin
Big Thompson River Basin
Advocacy Activities- see the detailed advocacy information below)
City and County
State of Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park Trout Surveys ( Protect )
Trout Surveys in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) - Protect This is a long-term collaborative activity with Alpine Anglers Chapter (Estes Park) and supports the work of a US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) biologist who conducts surveys of trout populations within RMNP. Specific projects and schedules are determined annually by RMNP and USFWS officials. The assistance of TU volunteers during the June through October field season is essential in completing the objectives. Volunteer roles involve capturing (sometimes via hook & line), measuring, weighing, recording, and returning trout to their home waters. These are excellent opportunities for volunteers to experience little visited areas of RMNP while also learning much about high altitude trout fisheries.
Native Greenback Trout Restoration Projects ( Restore Protect )
Native trout in Colorado were of three cutthroat subspecies: Colorado River, Rio Grande, and Greenback. The Greenback cutthroats inhabited Eastern Slope rivers and is of special interest to RMF because the chapter’ home waters are the site of major Greenback restoration and protection projects.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Greenback populations were decimated by over-harvesting and pollution. Subsequently, non-native trout species were widely introduced. These more aggressive species further reduced the Greenback population. Interest in restoring Greenbacks has recently soared, and Greenbacks are now designated as the state fish of Colorado.
Attempts to restore Greenbacks were frustrated by uncertainties about their defining characteristics. Comparing genetic characteristics of current cutthroat populations with those of museum specimens, the identity puzzle has been clarified if not solved.
Successful recovery involves three steps:
- Remove non-native trout
- Select natural barriers to prevent non-natives from re-entering the area
- Establish a greenback metapopulation. A metapopulation consists of several interconnected streams suitable for natural reproduction.
A large area surrounding the Poudre River head waters, near the northern border of RMNP, is the site for a major restoration of Greenbacks. Since 2010 TU volunteers from RMF and Alpine Anglers have conducted preparatory work to enable removal of non-native species. Assistance from TU volunteers will be needed when the project enters the removal stage.
Greenback trout were restored to Zimmerman Lake in the upper Poudre Canyon in 2014 by Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists. The USFS is developing plans to restore Greenbacks in George Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the Poudre. In early 2016 RMF applied for a TU Embrace-a-Stream grant to assist the early stages of this project.
Additional sites may be identified that would need RMF/TU assistance to restore Greenbacks.
Periodic River Cleanup Projects ( Restore )
RMF volunteers traditionally conduct a riverside cleanup project, alternating yearly between the Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson. The focus is trash removal between the highway and the river bank. Easy accessible “river trash” is also included. Each cleanup takes a half-day and is concluded with a picnic lunch for participants. These events can be coordinated with Trout Unlimited’ nationally celebrated River Cleanup Day.
Past experience indicates trash near the mouth of the canyon is denser than further upstream. The Big Thompson cleanup ranges from Narrows Park* to the handicapped fishing pier. The Alpine Angers Chapter does the upper section of the river. A cleanup of Narrows Park is conducted at the same time when coordinated with Larimer County Park’ staff.
On the Poudre, the collection begins at Picnic Rock and proceeds upstream to the vicinity of Upper Landing picnic area.
Two-person teams are assigned to an area ranging from a half-mile to three-quarters of a mile in length. Orange collection bags, orange safety vests, and arrangements for later pick-up of the trash bags are provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation Highway Maintenance office in Loveland.
At the picnic lunch informal prizes for the oddest trash item collected and/or tallest story about an incident may be awarded with much jovial recognition. For previous river clean up work, see our rivers page.
*Both Narrows Park and the handicap pier were destroyed in the 2013 floods and these projects have not been pursued since awaiting decisions on the future of each.
Phantom Canyon Preserve ( Protect )
Phantom Canyon Preserve, approximately 30 miles northwest of Fort Collins, is one of Northern Colorado’s greatest natural treasures. It is private property owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, a private nonprofit nature conservation organization. The Preserve contains unique ecological features, some of which are extremely rare in Colorado. While there has never been a road constructed along the North Fork of the Poudre River as it flows through Phantom Canyon, trails provide access to the river.
RMF has partnered with TNC over the years in a variety of ways in support of their public outreach, land stewardship and education missions, including events that allow catch and release fly fishing. Indeed, fishing in Phantom Canyon is typically a very memorable event.
Currently, RMF assists TNC by providing work leaders for 3 or 4 trail maintenance events per year. Each of these events is limited to 10 volunteers plus two work crew leaders. The typical scenario is for half the crew to work upstream of the midpoint and the other half downstream. After lunch, fishing is allowed. It is a great opportunity to visit this extraordinary natural setting, assist TNC with maintaining the property, and to experience some of the best fishing around.
For current Phantom Canyon information, see our Phantom Canyon page.
Eagles Nest Project ( Restore )
Eagles Nest, a Larimer County Open Space, is located outside of Livermore, off the road to Red Feather Lakes. The North Fork of the Cache La Poudre River flows through Eagles Nest for about 1.5 miles. Unfortunately, the river, beginning just downstream of Phantom Canyon is subject to a major diversion by the irrigation companies that own 50% of the water rights stored in Halligan Reservoir, and the North Fork as it reaches Eagles Nest virtually dries up in the summer. City of Greeley, which owns the Seaman water shares and Ft. Collins, which owns the Halligan water shares are looking to increase storage capacity. If both reservoirs are expanded, there is a possibility of RMF taking part in negotiations to allow for better release flows to ensure a healthy trout stream. It is also possible that the riparian area in Eagles Nest would be partially flooded by an expansion of Seaman Reservoir.
The Eagles Nest project began in 2005 with stream bank stabilizations and plantings. The final year of such plantings was done in 2007. Some of the plantings were done in concert with a local Boy Scout troop.
Bank stabilizations and the plantings were successful and additional efforts were not needed. Larimer County Open Space asked if RMF would be interested in volunteering for trail maintenance. The chapter agreed to maintain our presence and in 2008 a spring and fall trail maintenance day was completed by about 12 RMF volunteers. Trail maintenance efforts continued during 2009 but chapter participants began to fall off in the spring and had to be supplemented with other volunteers. The fall effort had more non-RMF volunteers than chapter members.
The 2010 spring project got only two or three RMF volunteers and was canceled because the minimum number of volunteers could not be met. The fall effort received no RMF interest. Due to this lack of interest in the project, new chapter projects that were more attractive to members, and the fact there was not a viable fishery due to low summer flows, the RMF Board decided to hold the project in abeyance until the completion of Halligan and Seamans Reservoirs. The Board will consider becoming involved again when a healthy trout fishery could be established. You can view previous Eagles Nest work.
Collaboration with Fort Collins Natural Areas Department ( Protect Restore )
The Fort Collins Natural Areas Department is the steward of a 13 mile Poudre River corridor containing 17 designated Natural Areas totaling 1,380 acres and a separate Gateway Natural Area in lower Poudre Canyon. RMF volunteers support that stewardship in three projects.
Monofilament Fishing Line Project: Natural Areas has installed 20-some receptacles along the Poudre River to dispose of waste monofilament line. RMF volunteers periodically collect that waste and turn it in to the city for recycling. Decals on the trash receptacles recognize RMF’s role and increase public awareness of RMF/TU.
Adopt-a-Trail Project: Gateway Natural Area, at the confluence of the Poudre River and its North Fork (just below Seaman Reservoir), is a popular area for anglers and the site of two historic trails leading visitors to scenic overlooks. Twice each year, teams of RMF volunteers, with supervision by Natural Areas staff, maintain and improve the condition of these popular trails. Prominent signage recognizes RMF’s role. Previous work days are reported on the Gateway page.
Poudre River Downtown Project: Natural Areas has embarked on a major project to improve the less-than-healthy Poudre River between Shields Street and Mulberry Street. This is a multi-year, multi-million dollar project. Planned improvements include:
- Improved fish habitat connectivity
- Addressing low flow issues
- Improved refuges for fish and insects
- Enhanced riparian habitats and connectivity
- Modified riverbanks to safely handle high river flow
- Improved recreational opportunities, including fishing
RMF volunteers have provided inputs to the project planning and have and will participate in implementation stages of the project. In early 2013 RMF volunteers assisted in re-vegetation plantings and trail work at McMurray Natural Area.
Collaboration with Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest
Many people think the main Poudre River is the sole trout fishery for Fort Collins residents. But trout inhabit many tributary streams. Most streams are on lands managed by the Arapaho Roosevelt National Forest (ARNF). RMF volunteers collaborate with Forest Service staff in several modes, including three conservation projects.
Sheep Creek Fish Passage Project ( Reconnect )
Sheep Creek is a Poudre tributary that enters near Sleeping Elephant Mountain. The headwaters include two forks crossed by old culverts on a Forest Service road extending from Crown Point Road. The culverts have degraded which prevent trout migration to spawning areas. Planned and delayed for a number of years, culvert replacements and vegetative plantings adjacent to the culverts were completed in 2015 with RMF volunteer participation.
Mount Margaret Vicinity-Elkhorn Creek Stream Crossings Projects ( Protect )
A network of unpaved vehicular trails crosses several North Fork Poudre tributaries in the Red Feather Lakes area. Vehicles raise clouds of silt that often end up in trout spawning and holding areas. A series of one-day projects has been planned since 2013 but delayed by floods and other funding priorities..Plans call for RMF volunteers, with guidance from experienced Poudre Wilderness Volunteers, to implant special concrete blocks into the streambeds to harden them and prevent streambed erosion at the crossings.
South Fork Poudre Trout Population Survey ( Restore )
During the High Park Fire in 2012, the South Fork Poudre (not Big South) Canyon was one of the most severely burned areas. This project will have an electrofishing survey and a “hook & line” survey to help determine what needs to be done to restore the habitat and/or trout population in this area. RMF volunteers will do the “hook & line” survey following instructions provided by ARNF biologists, and may assist in the electrofishing. The original September/October 2013 time-frame has been delayed by other priorities.
Post Flood Stream Assessments ( Restore )
Following the 2013 flood and massive changes to Front Range river channels, USFS sought the help of RMF and other area chapters in conducting streambed assessments. Colorado Trout Unlimited (CTU) helped coordinate these efforts since many streams in multiple chapter areas were involved.
North Fork Thompson River debris removal ( Restore )
During the 2013 floods the North Fork of the Thompson was (as it was in the deadly 1976 flash flood) one of the most heavily damaged areas. In 2015 USFS personnel approached RMF for help in removing potentially toxic pieces of destroyed roadbed from the portions of river channel on USFS land. A unique partnership was developed allowing RMF trained crew-leaders to take small groups into the canyon and, using USFS supplied tools, remove debris which was too small for large machinery to handle but still significant pollution threats. USFS personnel coordinated these efforts with the ongoing road construction project and arranged for construction crews to pick up, and recycle when possible, the accumulated debris. This project is planned to resume in 2016 when weather and water conditions allow.
Collaboration with Colorado Parks and Wildlife Fisheries (Protect)
RMF projects in support of CPW fisheries are generally ad hoc as special opportunities arise. An example occurred in 2010, when CPW needed to augment its biologists who were conducting a large trout relocation project, moving trout from one reach of the Poudre River to another in preparation for a study of trout migrations. Again in 2015 CPW reached out to RMF for assistance in fall electrofishing surveys when their personnel were spread too thin.
Fort Collins-based CPW fisheries biologists are readily available for consultations regarding conservation projects and RMF volunteers are pleased to support CPW projects. Aside from conservation projects, RMF also supports other CPW activities such as the annual Outdoor Skills Day for youths and exhibitions at sportsman shows.
2020 Rocky Mountain National Park Field Research Schedule volunteer opportunities lead by Chris Kennedy.
Collaboration with Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW) ( Restore )
After the High Park Fire was brought under control in July 2012, RMF representatives met with other volunteer groups and stakeholders to coordinate projects for the ecological restoration of burned areas which were primarily within the Poudre watershed. That informal collaboration evolved into the formation of a new non-profit coalition having the CPRW name. RMF was one of the founding organizations in that coalition and RMF past president Dick Jefferies became the initial Chairman of the Board of CPRW.
RMF has extended its collaboration with CPRW into field work projects such as the Skin Gulch (Hwy 14 and Stove Prairie Rd) restoration project in 2015.
Big Thompson Watershed Coalition (BTWC) ( Restore )
As the flood waters of 2013 were still receding, RMF and other interested parties began to discuss a coalition similar to the CPRW but centered on the Big Thompson watershed. In January 2016 the coalition achieved full 501(c)3 non-profit status. Much of the work of this group has been planning and preparing for action when the highway construction in the canyon (both main stem and north fork) allow. RMF Conservation Chair Dave Piske sits on the BWC board and RMF trained crew leaders and volunteers will be solicited for upcoming projects.
Conservation Advocacy Activities ( Advocacy )
RMF’s participation in advocacy activities falls into two classes.
One class of advocacy involves public policy actions that may broadly impact cold-water resources and/or people who utilize them. Examples include legislative and rule-making proposals by governments and their agencies. Examples in which RMF has recently taken advocacy positions include:
- Colorado legislation defining boundaries of roadless areas
- Colorado rules on conduct of oil/gas exploration & production in environmentally sensitive areas
- Colorado rules to prevent introduction of invasive species into Colorado waters.
The other class of advocacy involves applications from others to obtain permits for actions that will impact cold-water resources. Examples include:
- Construction of structures affecting river flows (e.g., Glade Reservoir/NISP)
- Removal of in-stream structures that impede habitat connectivity such as abandoned irrigation diversions on Poudre River in Fort Collins
- Changes in water management practices (Windy Gap Firming Project)
- Mitigation of damages from inadequate minimum flows (La Poudre Pass Creek downstream of Long Draw Reservoir)
Readers interested in the underlying basis for advocacy actions may want to attain a layman’s acquaintance with these two laws:
- Colorado Water Law, (Reference: “A Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Law 2009”)
- Clean Water Act 1972, (see Section 404, administered by US Army Corps of Engineers with EPA veto power)
2015 Restoration work
Local Conservation Restoration - Skin Gulch and More
The Poudre watershed still suffers, in some places from the effects of the High Park fire in 2012. Those effects were aggravated by the September 2013 flood. Our friends at the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW) are managing ecological restoration projects in the upper Poudre watershed. Those projects typically require a combination of earth-moving work by heavy-equipment contractors and handwork by volunteers who do soil stabilization and re-vegetation on disturbed terrain.
In the Poudre watershed, one of those projects is Skin Gulch, a tributary that continues to carry massive amounts of silt into the Poudre River near the junction of Highway 14 and Stove Prairie Road. Extensive earth-moving was done by a contractor prior to May 2. Once that was completed, revegetation and some finishing touches on bank stabilization was accomplished by volunteers using hand tools. See the Skin Gulch story below.
In the Thompson watershed, the Big Thompson River Restoration Coalition serves as the overall coordinator of restoration projects on the main stem of the Big T downstream of Olympus Dam at Estes Park and also on the Big T’s North Fork. As in the Poudre watershed, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers is a source of volunteer labor.
On-line registration of volunteers from RMF is accomplished via the WRV web site www.wlrv.org. On the opening page, click on Projects as seen in this image.
Scroll down to the date and project you are interested in. Follow the instructions for registering as a volunteer.
As you go through that process, which begins with establishing your personal password for subsequent access to the website, you will see a box with an elective button alongside where you can identify your affiliation with our group. Click on that button and select “RMFlycasters.”
Following your registration, about a week prior to each project, you will receive an email from WRV informing you of project details, what to bring with you , and where to meet for car-pooling to the project site.
May Conservation Notes
Dave Piske, Conservation Chair
Photos by Guy Turenne
April and May have been very busy months for Rocky Mountain Flycaster conservation volunteers and; and, there is much to do in the months that come.
A Landmark Day in the Poudre River Watershed
Outwardly, Saturday, May 2 was just a pleasant springtime day in the Poudre Canyon. It also was a fine day for a diverse group of more than 40 volunteers who were there to aid the ecological recovery of a Poudre River tributary that had been ravaged by a combination of natural disasters.
Early that morning the lower-most run of Skin Gulch was a raw landscape of newly re-graded barren earth along both sides of a meandering stream channel. An earth-moving contractor had just finished reshaping the stream channel and adjacent terrain. But the scene still reflected the combined after- effects of the High Park Wildfire in 2012 and the Front Range floods in 2013. By the end of the day May 2, a 2,200 feet length of riparian and upland areas on both sides of Skin Gulch would be enriched with Biosol and Humate and on its way to re-vegetation from hand-dispersed native grass seeds. Additionally, hundreds of willow and cottonwood cuttings would be planted in riparian areas overlying sub-surface water, and unstable stream banks would be stabilized with erosion-resistant matting anchored to the ground. All the manual labor to accomplish these tasks was provided by the volunteers.
This project was a unique accomplishment in an evolutionary, multi-organization process that began shortly after the High Park Wildfire. Improving the capability of the local community to address post-disaster impacts on our ecological systems was a goal that was recognized in late 2012. What is now the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed (CPRW) is the organization leading the way to that goal.
In 2012, Rocky Mountain Flycasters recognized the importance of having a community-based effort in implementing Trout Unlimited's mission of protecting, conserving, and restoring coldwater resources. RMF-TU was active in establishing CPRW, and our current TU chapter president also chairs the Board of CPRW. The Skin Gulch project on May 2 was the first post-fire and post-flood restoration project involving the Poudre's coldwater fishery. A follow-on project will take place on 3,500 feet of another Skin Gulch reach on October 24 & 25.
These projects bring together the combined resources of three non-profit organizations. CPRW's Executive Director is the Managing Partner of the Skin Gulch projects, leading fundraising for project costs, maintaining landowner relations with the U S Forest Service, and is the overall coordinator of all involved partners. Wildlands Restoration Volunteers and Rocky Mountain Flycasters are the partners who recruit and manage the volunteers who accomplish the extensive handwork. Technical design and contractor management functions are provided by AloTerra Restoration Services, LLC.
The presence of nine volunteers from RMF demonstrated the commitment of RMF to support these CPRW activities. Some of our elder volunteers were also inspired by the enthusiasm of the younger volunteers from both RMF and WRV who carried out the most rigorous tasks. Looking forward to the next Skin Gulch project on October 24 & 25, we enthusiastically encourage an even greater involvement of RMF volunteers in that follow-on project and in other similar projects to come on our chapter's home waters.
New Gradable Framework to Assess Poudre River’s Health:
A Decision Support and Analysis Tool for Proposed Water Projects
Rocky Mountain Flycasters is one among several groups that envision the Poudre River as being maintained as a healthy and resilient river. What has been absent to support that concept is a tool that qualitatively grades the Poudre's physical, chemical, and biologic characteristics that interactively provide measures of the Poudre's health.
Now, a multi-department group of Fort Collins employees and three Fort Collins Advisory Boards have produced a Framework for making evaluations of the Poudre's health. Its application will be focused on those reaches of the river that supply the city's consumptive needs and also its multiple non-consumptive uses, especially within the city's boundaries. To learn more about the new Framework, go to: fcgov.com/riverhealth.
Development of this Framework began in February 2015. It is expected to be ready for use when the public is invited to comment on the proposed diversions of Poudre River flows to be stored in a new off-stream reservoir proposed north of Ted's Place. That public comment period may begin as soon as June, 2015.
Fort Collins City Council has these topics on the agenda of its work session on Tuesday, May 12. A comprehensive description of the river health Framework and its relationship to the proposed reservoir project is viewable on the posted agenda of the Council’s Work Session for May 12. www.fcgov.com/cityclerk/agendas.php
Additionally, a scheduled Open House on May 21 provides the opportunity for the public to learn more about this new Framework. It is an event where you can discuss your thoughts and raise questions with people who developed the Framework. The Open House will be on Thursday May 21 from 4 PM until 7 PM in the Community Room at 215 North Mason St. in Fort Collins. During the Open House, presentations will be made at 4:30, 5:30 and 6:30.
Poudre River Downtown Improvements Heading Toward City Council Actions
If you missed the Open House at the Lincoln Center on February 27, you can still view the exhibits at www.fcgov/com/poudre-downtown. And see them you must.
The Poudre River Downtown Project is a joint effort among three Fort Collins City government departments: Parks Planning, Stormwater Utilities, and Natural Areas. The Project plan is at a stage where it is visualized in striking full-color conceptual landscapes of each reach as defined by downtown street bridges.
Ten City Boards and Commissions will review the Plan at their respective public meetings before it is considered by City Council at its May 13 Work Session. The schedule of meetings is on the above web site. Each of the Board and Commission meetings is open to the public, so there are plenty of opportunities to make your views known before City Council makes its decisions.
The goals of the Downtown Project include, among others, these of high interest to our readers:
- Deliver continuous, connected aquatic and riparian habitat for fish, wildlife, trees and plants.
- Achieve and maintain diverse and sustainable native fish populations.
- Provide a mix of active and passive recreational amenities in and along the river.
The Downtown Project extends from the Shields Street Bridge downstream to the Mulberry Street Bridge. Above and below these demarcations, and extending to the city limits in each direction, there is a set of river improvement projects where implementation is already under way. Details on those projects are at www.fcgov.com/riverprojects.
When you get familiar with all of these projects you will become more aware of the substantial, and much-needed, improvements in the health of the Poudre that are in our future.
And then take action to encourage and support the projects in public media and in open meetings of public officials.
Dave Piske, Conservation Chair
RMF at McMurry Natural Area
An early sunny morning turned cloudy, then sunny again. A terrific day to be out with Rocky Mountain Flycasters and members of the Natural Area Department of Fort Collins. RMF was invited to assist with some reconstruction work at the McMurry Natural Area. The area was heavily altered by the floods of September 2013 and work was necessary to repair the area. In addition to repair, some structural changes have been made to the area to mitigate future flood occurrences.
Projects of the morning included clearing an overflow channel for the ponds where the overflow was eroding a trail, resetting a line collecting unit that had moved downstream during the flood, securing and decking a boardwalk, as well as working on edges of natural trails.
The work was directed by our friends of the Natural Area Department, Todd Juhasz and Catherine Dillon. Dave Piske of RMF organized our participation and members volunteering included Phil Wright, Al Fink, Dennis Cook, Wil Huett, Jane Vajgrt, Donna Burrill, Bill Perrill, Phil Keller, and Paul Wehr.
For more conservation/restoration volunteer activities, please see our volunteer page.
Big Thompson Flood Restoration Moves Into Fast Forward
Less than a month after the historic Big Thompson River flood in September 2013, the formation of a collaborative organization to repair and improve the ecology of the Big Thompson River corridor seemed like a tenuous undertaking.
But at the end of the initial meeting on October 10, 2013, 26 people having diverse duties, interests, and skills realized they had a common cause, and a positive attitude towards meeting the challenge.
Today, that group has evolved into more than 75 persons representing city, county, state, and federal government agencies, independent non-profit organizations, and individual stakeholders. Together, they are focused on coordinating their respective organizations’ missions for the benefit of uncounted persons who are stakeholders in the results of all these activities.
Beyond a rapid assessment of the condition of the river in late 2013, a search was conducted for a capable consulting firm that could develop a master plan for restoration of the Big T from Olympus Dam in Estes Park downstream to the confluence with the South Platte River. A contract to perform that mission has been entered into, and development of that master plan is now underway.
Having that plan will enable prioritization and definition of specific projects, and that will bring forth a need for volunteers to do some of the project work.
Stay tuned for when these volunteer opportunities are defined, and dedicate some of your time and energy to making the Big Thompson River a healthier river than it was before September, 2013.
Dave Piske, Conservation Chair