(reprinted from The Mountain Mail, April 28, 2017, edition)

by Tom Arnot

For several years, Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited has conducted an aquatic ecology program for Salida Middle School students called Stream Explorers.

It begins with collecting macro-invertebrates from the river and extends to students examining the behavior of surrogate fish under varied conditions and concludes with fly-tying instruction and ishing.

This program produces enlightened students and has been so successful as an educational tool that Colorado Trout Unlimited has expanded it to other chapters throughout the country.

More recently, in partnership with the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association, Stream Explorers has been expanded to include Buena Vista. For the Salida classes, we are working to establish a permanent site for collecting data on a parcel owned by the Southwest Conservation Corps.

This site includes 475 feet of South Arkansas River frontage, a permanent pond and adjacent wetlands and is conveniently located within walking distance of Salida schools, immediately upstream of the new pedestrian bridge.

In collaboration with the Central Colorado Conservancy, GARNA and Southwest Conservation Corps, we are currently in the design phase of a project that will transform this site into a permanent, longterm, living laboratory – the Ecosystems Learning Center (ELC).

This project includes restoring the streambed and adjacent riverbank riparian areas and improving stream flows. Potential conversion of a historic barn on the site into a small classroom is also in the works.

By establishing the ELC at this location, students will be able to easily study river proiles, water lows, water quality and perform quantitative studies of fish numbers and health as well as aquatic, terrestrial, amphibious, avian and vegetative organisms, building a database over an extended period.

Although the Stream Explorers program is the core of the ELC, future activities and educational programs will not be limited to students. Public access will ultimately be provided via an extension of the Salida public trail from the new pedestrian bridge. Other local groups and organizations will be able to use the ELC site for classes, workshops and long-term experiments.

The South Arkansas River lows through a mix of ranchland and urban areas as it heads to its junction with the Arkansas River near downtown Salida. Over the years, the South Arkansas has suffered from an array of human impacts that have left it in poor condition.

Natural meanders have been eliminated, resulting in extended shallow stretches that can dry out at low water, stranding ish. Streamside vegetation has disappeared, leaving an absence of cover and structure in the river that provides habitat for ish and the aquatic insects they feed on.

Healthy streamside riparian zones are extremely important to the overall health of a river by improving soil conservation, lood control and habitat diversity.

In 2010, the Central Colorado Conservancy completed the irst comprehensive assessment of the South Arkansas River, which helped identify and prioritize conservation and restoration projects. Since then, the conservancy has been working with landowners to complete streambed rehabilitation and bank stabilization projects at three locations along the river.

Visit www.centralcoloradoconservancy.org for information on the work that has been completed to date.

The ELC is the next step. Collegiate Peaks Chapter, Central Colorado Conservancy, GARNA and Southwest Conservation Corps are actively fundraising, writing grants and committing volunteer labor and in-kind services to make this project a reality. Baseline studies of the prerestoration site have already begun.

Collegiate Peaks Chapter believes this project will foster a local population of young people who know, understand and appreciate the value of our native river ecosystems. These new river stewards will carry on the mission of protecting and improving the quality of the watershed to help ensure future generations will continue to be able to enjoy our local waters.

For more information about Collegiate Peaks Chapter, our events and projects, visit our website, http://www.collegiatePeaksTU.org/

Tom Arnot is chapter secretary and current board director of Collegiate Peaks Chapter – Trout Unlimited.