Category Archives: Recreation

In Bloom

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Ferril Lake Without Algae                  Photo Credit: Rolf Krahl

Ferril Lake in Denver’s City Park is a favorite summer stop for those looking to relax in the sun or take a trip around the lake in a paddle boat. Last summer, a perfect storm of heat and increased nitrogen from goose droppings allowed algal blooms to thrive. Blooms of up to 10 feet thick sprung from the lake’s bottom and, at one point, coated nearly ninety percent of the surface—sidelining paddle boats, releasing a foul stench, destroying the aesthetics of the lake and causing additional ecological issues below the surface.

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Photo Credit: Justin Henry

The presence of blue-green algae, known as cyanobacteria, in Ferril Lake is not uncommon. An increase in nutrients—nitrates and phosphates—along with increasingly warm temperatures, encourage the growth of cyanobacteria in lakes, streams, ponds and other surface waters. For years, the city of Denver has been looking for solutions to the now annual, and growing, issue.

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Urban Runoff                         Photo Credit: Robert Lawton

In the case of Ferril Lake, the algal bloom is a result of non-point pollution sources—urban runoff (grease, oil and chemicals) from Denver’s streets and the aforementioned goose droppings. Other non-point pollution sources include the excess use of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides from large-scale agriculture, as well as home gardens, energy production and sediment.

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Photo Credit: Hans W. Paerl

The presence and exponential growth of algae blooms in water sources deplete the water of dissolved oxygen, killing aquatic plant and animal life that depend on specific oxygen levels for survival. Without an increase in oxygen through treatments or during seasonal turnovers, lakes overrun with algae blooms will eventually “die,” unable to support life again.

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Photo Credit: Mary Cousins

 

In certain conditions, the cyanobacteria will also produce cyanotoxins, which are harmful to the environment, animals and humans, whether through direct contact, inhalation and/or ingestion. Human symptoms range from headaches, stomach cramps and allergic reactions to more severe cases of seizures and respiratory arrest. In the most extreme cases, contact with cyanotoxins can also lead to death. Coloradans in rural and urban areas are working together to monitor and address these threats to our water quality and public health.

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Photo Credit: Grendel Kahn

Learn more about cyanotoxins, algal blooms, public health and efforts to reduce nutrients in our water with a FREE webinar tomorrow Thursday, 4/13, at 9 a.m. Hear how municipal recreational lakes are monitoring and working to reduce algal blooms, learn about agricultural producers coming together and implementing best practices to minimize nutrient runoff and discover the basics of toxic algal blooms. Come ready to ask questions!

Offered in partnership with Colorado Water Congress with support from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Register here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/82877169749383938

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Filed under Colorado Foundation for Water Education, Environment, Events, Recreation, Water Quality

Flyathlon

By Andrew Todd

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Middle Creek provided a beautiful setting for the 2015 Flyathlon.

On paper, there is nothing exceptional about Middle Creek. It is not Wild or Scenic, nor has it been bestowed with any Gold Medals or Blue Ribbons. No, on paper, Middle Creek is just like the countless other small tributaries that make up Colorado’s headwaters, an arteriole of our vast hydrologic circulatory system. These humble creeks quietly feed the streams that feed the rivers that feed our Colorado way of life. To get to these waters, you have to drive on paved roads until you get to dirt roads until those dirt roads narrow and then run out. Even then, to truly appreciate the complexity of these creeks, you will still have many miles to go, on foot, on trails that may not have been maintained in a while. You will encounter ticks, mosquitoes, stinging nettle, rattlesnakes, moose, bear, downed trees, and sketchy creek crossings. But if you are patient and dedicated, you can catch and release a spectacular relic of Colorado’s natural history, one of our three remaining sub-species of cutthroat trout.

It is the celebration of these unheralded streams, lost trails and majestic native fish that drove me to create the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon. As a trail runner and life-long flyfisherman, fusing the two disciplines seemed natural to me, as trail running allows me to explore and fish our remote cutthroat waters more comprehensively.  And then, back at the trailhead, to make it a proper celebration, I add one of the finest uses of Colorado water; our superior craft beer.

run. fish. beer.

Simple as that.

Three years ago, I decided to share this vision with others.  In 2013, fifteen people crawled out of their tents to participate in an “unofficial” Flyathlon race event held around Monarch Lake in Grand County, CO.  In 2014, we made it official, and thirty-five people toed a shoe-drawn line in the dirt at the base of Middle Creek (yes, the one with ticks and rattlesnakes).  And this year, just weeks ago, our sold-out race brought fifty flyathletes from both near (Crestone and Salida) and far (Maine, Wisconsin, and Texas) to the Middle Creek woods near Saguache, CO.

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A group photo from the 2015 Flyathlon at the Middle Creek trailhead.

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A fish caught and photographed against a flyathlete’s bib during the 2015 Flyathlon.

Flyathlon race-day rules are fairly simple. Complete the prescribed trail run, catch a fish at any point during the run, take a picture of said fish on your race bib, and do it all as quickly as possible.  The bigger the fish, the more time is taken off at the end of your run (with a special double bonus for catching a native cutthroat trout).  In 2015, of the fifty race participants, all but four hooked, landed, and documented their catch, some for the first time ever.  And back at our tent city, all fifty enjoyed BBQ, local craft beer, and an awards ceremony loaded with prizes from local Colorado companies thanks to Osprey Packs, Scott Fly Rods, Ascent Fly Fishing, and Rolling River Anglers.

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Each Flyathlon race is specifically designed to get people excited about recreating in the most beautiful parts of the Western United States, to infuse the stuffy old sport of fly fishing with a youthful spirit, and to raise money for and awareness about critical cold-water conservation issues.  Relying on a crowdfunding model with our 501c3 partner Colorado Trout Unlimited, this past year, our flyathletes raised an incredible $22,200.  At least 50% of this money will be re-invested into projects to maintain and enhance the trails, creeks and fisheries within the range of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, ensuring that our activity is sustainable into the future.  The remaining monies will be used to tackle important coldwater and native fish issues around the Centennial State.

Moving forward into 2016, I hope to take the Flyathlon to the next level.  With my outstanding volunteer planning board, I have created an ambitious agenda with additional events added in several other basins in Colorado, as well as potential out-of-state races.  If you feel like you have what it takes to be a flyathlete, please visit our website www.flyathlon.com to get on our email list.  If your organization would like to partner with or sponsor the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon to enable us increase our impact, please contact me directly at cutthroat@gmail.com.

I look forward to seeing you on a small creek somewhere deep in the Colorado woods.

run. fish. beer.

andrewtoddAndrew Todd is a federal research biologist, studying the impact of a variety of stressors on Colorado’s rivers and streams, including acid rock drainage and climate change. Outside of work, Andrew serves as the current chair of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, sits on the board of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education, and is the founder and race director of the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon. He holds a bachelors degree in biology from Williams College, and masters and doctoral degrees in Environmental Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder. 

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Filed under Events, Recreation

Photos to make you drool…a book about the last major free-flowing river in the American Southwest

YampaCover_Layout 1Grab a drink, relax and get ready to enjoy some magnificent Colorado splendor in this latest release from Colorado photographer John Fielder. “Colorado’s Yampa River, Free Flowing and Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green” transports you to the state’s northwest corner, home of the last major free-flowing river in the American Southwest’s Colorado River system: the Yampa.

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The Yampa River flows through the Yampa Canyon in Dinosaur. Photo by John Fielder

Together with author Patrick Tierney, a long-time student of the Yampa River in capacities ranging from river ranger and guide to researcher and former director of the Yampa River Awareness Project, Fielder leads readers on a 249-mile journey from the Yampa’s headwaters to its confluence with the Green River in the heart of Dinosaur National Monument. Along the way, the river drops 6,000 feet. It first trickles through wildflower-laden meadows in the Flat Tops Wilderness, later carries tubers and kayakers through a whitewater park in downtown Steamboat Springs, then begins gathering force as it meanders through vast agricultural plains, and finally winds into the desert slickrock landscape of Dinosaur National Monument where it continues its tens-of-thousands-year-old practice of carving the 2,500-foot-deep Yampa Canyon. The authors recount harrowing experiences with thunderstorms in the high country and bridges at high water as well as awe-inspiring encounters with upside-down rainbows and soaring peregrine falcons. Around 150 of Fielder’s photographs and then-and-now images grace the pages.

By exposing readers who may have never ventured to this wilder corner of the state or encountered this rare gem of a river, the authors hope to generate appreciation and concern for what, in today’s world, is a dying species: the untamed river. Except for a few small diversions and storage reservoirs high in the watershed, the Yampa flows each season with nearly the full force of its natural runoff. Tierney writes that “it’s the flow” that is so crucial to maintaining the Yampa’s unique bio-physical system, which sustains both rare and endangered species as well as local economies along its course.

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The Flat Tops Wilderness near the Yampa River’s headwaters. Photo by John Fielder.

But even more than scientific reasons for protecting the Yampa’s flow, Tierney suggests readers experience the river for themselves. He writes in an excerpted passage: “Data is helpful, computers useful, reports required, and legal briefs necessary, but these will only give a limited perspective of what the Yampa River truly is and why its life-giving peak flows and lush riparian corridors should be protected.To fully appreciate the natural treasure called the Yampa River, you must take a few days and feel its power, get splashed, smell its aromas, hear the call of a sandhill crane from its wetlands, touch its rocky foundation, observe its remote reaches, and let the river—its riparian richness and million-year-old canyon walls—put you under their spell.”

The Yampa River Awareness Project, run by the Steamboat-based nonprofit Friends of the Yampa, is an attempt to do just that by introducing new policymakers, water managers, nonprofit employees and journalists to the river every year through an annual float trip. This year’s trip included individuals from organizations that ran the gamut from water providers to energy companies to the governor’s office. Last year, both Fielder and Tierney were in attendance. While Fielder wandered off to scout each amazing new photograph, some of which appear in the book, Tierney was leading discussions on river protection mechanisms and imparting his vast store of Yampa River experience to the group.

I was fortunate to be along on that trip and to be at the receiving end of Tierney’s passionate storytelling and knowledge sharing. It was also the first time I met Fielder, though he has been an active member and supporter of the Colorado Foundation for Water Education for years. One thing led to the next, and I became part of the book project myself, serving as its editor outside of my role at CFWE. I’m thrilled to now hold the product of Fielder and Tierney’s hard work, as well as a bit of my own, in my hands and welcome the opportunity CFWE will have to help share it in our community as part of the ongoing discourse surrounding Colorado’s Water Plan and the tradeoffs inherent in our future. (The plan’s second draft was just released today, and can now be viewed and commented on online. Final comments are due by September 17, 2015.​)

With the book hitting stores last week, Fielder and Tierney hope it will find its way into the hands of anyone from the general public to decision makers in the water arena. Says Fielder, “We hope that people who view and read the book will agree with Pat and I that Colorado and the West will be far better off ecologically and economically if Yampa River water remains within its banks. We encourage them to express this opinion to the Colorado Water Conservation Board via www.coloradowaterplan.org.”

​Tierney adds: “Writing [the book] pushed me to expand my knowledge of the river and that led to a greater appreciation of what the river provides today and what could be lost if it is taken for granted and not cared for in the future. Hopefully, it also does that for readers of the book.”
Watch for Tierney and Fielder, who will be touring Colorado to promote the project at bookstores via book signings, and by presenting musical slide shows with commentary with accompanying book signings at venues across the state. Fielder will also mount an exhibit of photographs from the project with various partners, including the Steamboat Springs Art Council and Symphony, Colorado Music Festival in Boulder, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Dinosaur National Monument, and dozens of others. Visit http://www.johnfielder.com for a complete list of events. The book is currently available from Amazon, www.johnfielder.com, and Colorado book retailers.
Jayla Poppleton is the content program manager for the Colorado Foundation for Water Education and senior editor for Headwaters magazine, CFWE’s flagship publication covering pressing challenges and promising trends in Colorado water. She enjoys getting out of Denver to experience Colorado’s vast, varied and beautiful places in her free time, and looks forward to an inaugural family river trip with her husband and three sons later this summer on a mellow stretch of the Colorado River. Someday she will take them on the Yampa.

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Filed under Book Club, Environment, Recreation, Water Supply

From Reservoirs to Corduroy: Snowmaking at Winter Park Resort

By Fiona Smith

Skiers around the state (and world) enjoy the benefits of snowmaking.

During the 2013-2014 ski season, Colorado saw 12.6 million skier visits. The ski industry across the United States alone generated around $12.2 billion during the 2009-2010 season. What makes it tick? What lies beneath that fresh corduroy and is responsible for Arapahoe Basin’s October open dates? Snowmaking. According to Winter Park Resort’s Slope Supervisor, Ron Richard, “Every other year we wouldn’t be able to open the way we do without snowmaking.”

In 1976, Winter Park became one of Colorado’s first resorts to use snowmaking. The tool is credited with saving the resort during one of the driest winters ever seen in the region. Winter Park’s snowmaking infrastructure now covers 300 acres across the resort.

While many ski areas in Colorado use automated equipment for their snowmaking, Winter Park continues to operate a manual system. “We have some guns you could operate with an app on your phone,” says Bob Dart, Winter Park’s Mountain Maintenance Director, “but most of our guys like to check them manually anyway.”

Bob Dart and his team run their snowmaking operations from the second week in October until the end of December. 28 degrees Fahrenheit is the magic number that allows their guns to make water into snow. Dart’s eight employees, many of whom boast 20 years of seniority, work 24-7 shifts during peak snowmaking times to earn their season pass.

Bob Dart, Winter Park’s Mountain Maintenance Director, displays a map of the resort’s snowmaking system. Each dot on the map represents one of the hydrants which connects 80,000 feet of buried pipe.

Winter Park primarily uses air-water guns, which pressurize the water they spew with air that is adjusted from a control center low on the mountain. These guns pump water at 100 gallons per minute. One person manages the control room, turning on the water and adjusting the air pressure. The other seven work in groups of two out in the field, checking on and adjusting the guns. Through calculated gun placements, the team makes numerous piles of snow along the high-traffic trails. When they are big enough, a snow cat comes through and moves the snow wherever it needs to go.

“Our goal is to make snow as quickly as possible and have enough coverage to last all season in the high traffic areas.” –Bob Dart, Winter Park Mountain Maintenance Director

This control panel in the control center powers and adjusts the air pressure for all of Winter Park’s hydrants.

Every two hours, Dart’s team checks on the guns stationed around the resort- altering their position or changing the pressure of the gun. 80,000 feet of buried water and pipes wind under the snow around Winter Park and Mary Jane. Connecting those pipes are the hydrants, which are in turn connected to the hoses that run to the guns (some of which stretch 300 feet). As often as they are checked, it is inevitable that a hose will freeze. Dart explained, “The snow you want will bounce off your jacket. If you see its sitting on your coat, you know that something needs to be checked.” The only way to fix a hose is to haul all 300 feet of the culprit into the Control Center and let it thaw.

Winter Park’s total water consumption last year was 72 million gallons or around 220 acre feet of water. Most of this is pumped from the Vasquez Canal and returned to the canal when it melts at the end of the season. Through a series of agreements, including the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, Winter Park has an annual allotment of 550 acre-feet of water from Denver Water to use for snowmaking as long as all return flows can be returned to or recaptured by Denver Water’s collection system. This water is primarily reservoir yield from the Clinton Reservoir. Dart explains, “As long as I have three inches of water in the canals, we can pump at least 1000 gallons per minute.” 20 percent of the water is lost to evaporation but for the most part, the system is closed-what they take they return. The only situation in which Winter Park cannot use its full allotment of water for snowmaking, is in the event that Green Mountain and Dillon Reservoirs do not fill. Read more about the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, this transbasin diversion system and others in CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado’s Transbasin Diversions.

While the equipment might be old-school, Winter Park’s snowmakers are looking toward improvements. They are currently in the process of replacing their piping, a project they must attend to at least every five years. Additionally, as a benefit of the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, the Resort has the opportunity to build a Fraser River pipeline that will allow recapture of more snowmaking water and a forty acre-foot holding pond on the resort. This will revolutionize the snowmaking schedule since they will no longer be solely dependent upon diurnal fluctuations.

The primary concern for the resort right now and an issue Bill Baum, General Counsel for Intrawest Colorado which manages Winter Park, has spent countless hours addressing, is that of the Federal Ski Area Water Rights Directive. This 2011 directive required ski areas applying for a permit to use Forest Service land, to assign or convey water rights to the Forest Service. The directive conflicts with Colorado’s Prior Appropriation system as it requires that private water rights be handed over to the federal government without just compensation. Since these water rights are crucial to maintaining the recreational and economic benefits of skiing in Colorado, this is an important and ongoing issue.

Attendees of the Colorado Water Congress POND Ski Day pose at the base of Winter Park Resort.

Supported by the Colorado Water Congress, Colorado State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg is sponsoring a 2015 bill (SB15-064), which would develop certain protections for ski area water rights against these federal taking claims. The bill was drafted and is primarily represented by the Boulder-based water law firm Porzak, Browning and Bushong LLP.  To learn more about SB15-064 please click here.

This post was written as a summary of the tour and presentations during the Colorado Water Congress Professional Outreach Networking and Development (POND) Committee’s 2015 Ski Day at Winter Park. For more information on the Colorado Water Congress and its upcoming events, please visit: www.cowatercongress.org.

Fiona SmithFiona Smith is the Member Outreach and Relations Manager for the Colorado Water Congress, a membership organization established in 1958 to provide leadership on key water resource issues and serve as the principal voice of Colorado’s water community. Prior to moving to Denver in 2013, she taught environmental education in her native state of Washington and spent three years in Telluride. There, she lived a double-life, managing an energy conservation program and ski patrolling. She received her BA in Geology from The Colorado College.

 

next stepWant to learn more about snowmaking? Listen to this story focusing on snowmaking at Aspen and Snowmass produced in partnership with Rocky Mountain Community Radio stations and CFWE as part of our Connecting the Drops series.  Then read “Bring on the Snow” and “Nature’s Reservoir at Risk” in the Winter 2013 issue of Headwaters magazine.

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Powerful new film “Warm Springs” tells story of boating on the Yampa River

It’s not everyday you get the experience of rafting through a powerful, Class IV rapid, on the peak of a free-flowing river’s annual runoff, in an epic water year. Although I’m not suggesting it’s a replacement for the real thing, a new film from Steamboat Springs-based Rig to Flip has made it possible to vicariously experience the power and awesomeness of one of the West’s most notable rapids through its recent release of a 20-minute film called “Warm Springs.” If you’re like me, the footage from their 2011 Yampa and Warm Springs run, when the river topped out at twice its average peak flow, is guaranteed to give you an adrenaline rush. That combined with historical footage of Yampa River rafting dating back as early as the 1950s and interviews with renowned river runners such as George Wendt, founder of commercial outdoor outfitter O.A.R.S., make this film a must-see.

To kick off CFWE’s series looking at the many and varied values of Colorado water, we aim the spotlight on this recent project of Rig to Flip, a small group of river enthusiasts and videographers who aim to inspire engagement by telling stories, stories that remind people of their connection to place. In this case, the Yampa River’s long history of river running and the dramatic birth of one of the West’s most notable rapids set the stage for a powerful film that will remind anyone who’s been down the Yampa why they love it so much, and will expose anyone who hasn’t seen or even heard of the Yampa to its rare and powerful charm.

“We want this video to remind us about history, about where we come from and why the Yampa offers an experience few others rivers in this region do,” says film director and co-founder of Rig to Flip Cody Perry.

Unlike most things, Warm Springs rapid was literally created overnight. Wendt, who would found O.A.R.S. four years later, lived through the storm and witnessed the debris flow that hurtled down a side canyon and into the Yampa creating Warm Springs rapid in 1965. Prior to that time, the river through that section was smooth sailing for boaters. When the landslide came down, Wendt narrowly escaped with his life. The next day, one of the first guides to tackle Warm Springs flipped, and then failed to resurface. His body was found 17 days later.

“The river has such a deep story,” says Cody. “The people who witnessed this debris flow that created Warm Springs saw a rapid be born.” Due to the Yampa’s wildly fluctuating streamflows, Warm Springs has changed over the years. “Warm Springs is a rapid that was once formidable, but over time has been made less so. It has to do with the river operating on its own hydrograph,” says Cody. “That’s the specialness of the Yampa.”

Cody personally experienced Warm Springs for the first time in 2011, when the Yampa hit 27,000 cubic feet per second at high water, twice its average peak. “I was hooked at that point.” I met him a few years later, in June 2014, at the Yampa’s Deerlodge Park put-in just inside the eastern boundary of Dinosaur National Monument. The river, which had recently peaked at 17,000 cfs, was just beginning to drop off. Cody was serving (and still does) as secretary of Friends of the Yampa, a river advocacy group formed in 1981 that hosts an annual awareness-building river trip, the reason we were there. Cody was in the process of phasing out his professional outdoor education work at Colorado Mountain College in order to pursue Rig to Flip full-time with fellow river enthusiast and videographer Ben Saheb. During the course of our trip, the two invariably could be seen aiming their cameras at the rest of the group as they captured footage while perched, often precariously, on the rigging or tubes of their own raft.

Some of that footage appears in the recently released film, which is the result of nine months of work to widely share the story of a place where, says Cody, the potential exists for issues to become contentious, especially at a time when the state is using Colorado’s Water Plan to identify future water needs and sources, and transbasin diversions are part of the discussion.

Explains Cody, “What we’re trying to do is say, ‘Here’s this amazing river. There are reasons for us culturally to maintain it, on many levels.’”

“Warm Springs” was produced by Rig to Flip with support from Friends of the Yampa, American Whitewater, American Rivers and O.A.R.S. Watch the full film for yourself, and share your comments or personal experiences with the Yampa River on the Your Water Colorado blog.

To read more about issues facing the Yampa, check out past CFWE coverage in the January 2010 issue of Headwaters magazine, “No Longer a Valley Too Far.

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