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Crystal River conservation comments considered

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Residents of Carbondale are invited to provide feedback on proposed changes to Riverfront Park and the Weaver Ditch diversion.

On April 24, concepts were presented at Carbondale Branch Library by The Town in partnership with Aspen Valley Land Trust, Roaring Fork Conservancy, American Rivers, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Public Counsel of the Rockies and Trout Unlimited.  The area in question is a one and a half mile stretch of the Crystal River, from the Carbondale Fish Hatchery to Crystal Bridge Drive, which was identified in 2016 by Roaring Fork Conservancy’s Crystal River Management Plan as “severely to unsustainably impaired.” The scientific evaluation was sparked by historic low flows in 2012.

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Detailed results of a 2018 consultation with organizations River Restoration, DHM Design, and Lotic Hydrologic are now available online at yourcrystalriver.com. Two conceptual designs are offered with the stated goals of restoring ecological integrity, improving channel stability, creating a low-maintenance Weaver Ditch diversion structure and enhancing the passive user experience in the town-owned Riverfront Park in River Valley Ranch. Although details vary, both designs include modifications within the river, reducing sediment input and encouraging a more natural flow, while also more effectively defining river access and improving the eroded banks. Other elements include the implementation of outdoor classrooms in Riverfront Park and automating, as well as tidying, the Weaver Ditch headgate.

The designs are referred to as levels and differ in degrees of intervention. Level 1 is considered more “primitive,” and favors wetland habitat. Level 2 involves more development with additional kiosks and signage, potential for a looping trail versus the current out and back trail, and even paved fishing access for individuals with physical disabilities. Jason Jaynes, Principal at DHM Design, stated at the meeting that the right balance for the river and community would likely be a combination of the two approaches.

Towards the end of that meeting, Mary Harris, President of Roaring Fork Audubon Society, stood to propose a lighter approach in favor of maintaining the area as a sanctuary for breeding birds. According to Harris, the local Audubon Society was asked by The Town in 2014 to be caretakers of the park and to oversee seasonal closures. They have since registered 64 bird species that visit Riverfront Park. Harris shared that “the reason this area is so bird wealthy is because it’s one of the last riparian areas without human disturbance. It may have disturbed patches but it’s basically not very used. Even in spite of the fact that the golf course is here and there’s houses on the other side of the river, the birds have been able to breed in peace and quiet.”

At the meeting, several representatives for Roaring Fork Audubon warned that habitat loss due to continual human presence and noise, including even a semi-quiet gathering, could lead to nest abandonment. Town Manager Jay Harrington affirmed that seasonal closures would be maintained and could even be more effectively enforced with the addition of a gate along with other new infrastructure. 

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This being the conceptual design phase, the organizations involved would like to hear from their community. Comments will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Friday, May 10 at yourcrystalriver.com. The website also includes materials from the presentation. The next step in the timeline is to decide upon a preliminary design and begin permitting and fundraising with construction slated for late summer to fall of 2020.

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