by Keith Krebs, Daniel Omasta, and Jason Willis

The driving mission behind decades of work by Trout Unlimited is to conserve, protect and restore America’s cold-water fisheries and their watersheds.

Colorado Trout Unlimited’s efforts have focused on collaborative approaches to restore native cutthroat trout, mitigate impacts of abandoned mines, enhance access to public lands and engage diverse communities in fishing and conservation.

Founded in 1985, the Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited has worked tirelessly to bring TU’s mission to life here in the Upper Arkansas River Valley.

Over the years, the chapter has worked closely with national and state TU staff to improve the quality of fishing along the state’s longest stretch of Gold Medal water in the Arkansas River, as well as develop local partnerships to clean abandoned mines, get local youth on the river and support local veterans.

In 2020, while the world was shut down by the devastating impacts of COVID-19, Collegiate Peaks Chapter and TU pressed on.

With the support of local businesses, volunteers and community partners, TU’s work in the Valley included:

• Reclamation of Tiger Mine (headwaters of the Lake Fork of the Arkansas River) – TU worked with partners to consolidate and cap precipitated solids contained in former onsite settling ponds. Approximately one acre was revegetated as part of this project with the goal of long-term stability while also preventing future erosion and runoff into local creeks.

• Chalk Creek Flume Installations – TU worked with the U.S. Forest Service and a private contractor to install Parshall flumes below three mines near St. Elmo to monitor fluctuations in flows that could potentially send large volumes of water and heavy metals downstream. This data will aid future reclamation efforts and planning for flow control.

• Decker Fire Burned Area Response – TU worked closely with the Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative and local partners in a supportive role to help implement best management practices to stabilize road crossings and culverts that would convey storm flows. Efforts will continue to help mitigate runoff into the Arkansas River.

• Halfmoon Watershed Reclamation – TU staff continue to work closely with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining, and Safety and the Lake County Open Space Initiative to identify projects in the Halfmoon drainage, as well as Iowa Gulch, to develop opportunities for fish passage, abandoned mine reclamation, and stabilization of historic structures.

• Upper Arkansas Watershed Resiliency Plan – TU staff have worked closely with various local organizations, including the Upper Arkansas Conservation District, Central Colorado Conservancy, and Arkansas River Watershed Collaborative, to form the Upper Arkansas Watershed Partnership.

The Watershed Partnership will be focused on leveraging local resources and partnerships to improve water quantity and quality in the upper Arkansas River basin.

The group submitted a grant proposal to the Colorado Water Conservation Board in November 2020 to support the development of an integrated watershed resiliency plan that aims to improve riparian ecosystems, support local water users and agricultural producers, and provide better data on the health of our local streams.

• Oro Vista Mining Claim Opposition – Along with CPCTU’s letter of opposition, TU’s Colorado Abandoned Mine Land team submitted technical comments that addressed significant concerns with the proposed dredged mining operation along a popular stretch of the Arkansas River. The proposal was withdrawn late in 2020.

• Boots on the Ground Conservation – CPC-TU completed three local conservation projects along the Arkansas River and headwaters including cleanup and fence gate/ladder installation.

• South Arkansas Restoration and the Ecosystems Learning Center – In collaboration with Central Colorado Conservancy, progress continues on the ELC and the South Arkansas River Restoration with the completion of the site study, analysis and data base for a 1.2 mile reach of the river. The ELC, located on Southwest Conservation Corps property and part of the reach, received preliminary approval to remove the existing deteriorated barn and replace with a new building to be used for meeting space.

• South Arkansas River Watch – Two Collegiate Peaks TU members completed the seventh month of data collection and lab analysis for the “Little River” at the ELC site to help determine and maintain the water quality and health of the river.

• Youth Education – Although too many of the Collegiate Peaks TU youth education activities were curtailed or cancelled including both Salida and Buena Vista fishing derbies, the chapter did succeed by joining with the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association and Get Outdoors Leadville to complete two weeks of mostly outdoor Stream Explorer activities. Salida Stream Explorers was limited to the first two sessions only. The Chapter looks forward to re-invigorating these programs in 2021.

While 2020 was marked by unprecedented shutdowns, wildfire and public health concerns – the Upper Arkansas River Valley also witnessed significant increases in recreation and urban development.

As the valley continues to grow and our natural resources become “loved to death,” it will take continued local collaboration to protect and restore our watershed.

To get more involved in the various aspects of the work of Trout Unlimited here in the valley, please visit the Collegiate Peaks Chapter website:

The chapter currently has opportunities to join its board of directors, as well as contribute through donations and volunteer hours.

Together, we can continue to take good care of our aquatic resources and support a healthier future for our community and the next generations.

Keith Krebs is president of Collegiate Peaks Trout Unlimited. Daniel Omasta is the grassroots coordinator of Colorado Trout Unlimited. Jason Willis is the mine restoration project manager for Trout Unlimited.