Wildlands Restoration Volunteers 2012 Summary of Results (Grant from Boulder CMC)

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Wildlands Restoration Volunteers 2012 Summary of Results: Healing the Land and Building Community, with the Help of CMC Boulder

By Jarret Roberts

The Spark of a Community
An idea or a single small action can have a profound and lasting effect on our world. Our local communities saw this firsthand as one spark built to eventually consume more than 87,000 acres in the High Park Fire last summer. While this fire and many other recent conflagrations in Colorado have caused immense amounts of damage and devastation, they also can serve to remind us of the power a single action can have, such as the first gathering of volunteers for a WRV project in 1999, which grew to a large community of land stewards uniquely suited to restore a multitude of ecological disaster sites including the ones the fires left behind.

In WRV’s 2012 restoration field season, we witnessed the impressive growth and increasing strength of the community that started as a little seed of an idea planted over a decade ago, with steadfast monetary support, cabin use, outreach and recruitment help, and volunteerism from CMC Boulder. At over eleven High Park Fire restoration events, volunteers rose to the challenge and helped install erosion log barriers (ELBs), spread native seed, and mulch the severely burned hillsides outside of Fort Collins. This work will help stabilize slopes and slow the erosion that turned the Poudre River into ashy black water the consistency of chocolate milk.

A Network of Connections
The soft sloshing sounds of rubber boots contrasted sharply with the pounding of metal on metal, as mini sledge hammers drove in the last spikes on the 20-foot bridge volunteers built at the Forsythe Canyon Restoration project early in the spring of 2012. Much like ecosystems, communities involve connections between many individuals, groups, and places, all joining together to create a larger functioning system. On projects such as the Brainard Portal Restoration and Trail, West Magnolia, Canyon Lakes, and Weiser Eagle Habitat Restoration, volunteers came together from different groups to make connections and improve local communities and ecosystems.

CMC Boulder has had a long-term investment in the Brainard Area, and offered the cabin to help support restoration work there. Projects such as the Weiser Eagle Habitat Restoration connected local military veterans through the restoration of golden eagle habitat, while the Georgia Pass project brought together local off-road vehicle clubs and the U.S. Forest Service, who, shoulder-to-shoulder braved steep slopes and staged supplies to facilitate the 8,000-foot road closure.

Southeast of Nederland, a diverse partnership of Forest Service, Denver Water personnel, and others made all kinds of connections by constructing a new trail system and restoring areas of a seasonal migration route for a large elk herd at the Winiger Ridge restoration event. Just down the road from Winiger, the 2012 project arguably most focused on connectivity occurred. A mere 450 feet of un-built trail had left a brand new parking lot and portal into the Indian Peaks Wilderness isolated; but the Brainard Portal project fixed that and restored thousands of feet of social trail in the process. In one last, and slightly different connection, many volunteers at 2012’s Red Rocks Restoration used conveyor systems to fill an entire gully. The pounding of rock rang out in perfect harmony with the echoes of the many famous musicians who have played at the iconic live-music venue, which is also a Denver Mountain Park.

A Community Tradition
Building a community also means defining norms and traditions. Volunteers on the first WRV 2012 project threw the stereotypical concept of Spring Break out the window and instead pulled on overalls, pulled down wool hats, and strapped up their boots to improve bird habitat at Chico Basin. Everyone, opted to return covered in mud instead of a vacation tan. Also, hopefully setting a new trend, an 11-year-old at the Senac Creek project saved up her babysitting money to become WRV’s youngest due-paying member ever! As always, one good deed deserves another, and many of the large holes this young donor and others volunteers were prepared to dig for plants were instead made easy by the huge mechanical arm (called the “Stinger”) of a backhoe operated by long-time WRV volunteer, Buddy Kihm.

Making Waves
Big waves sometimes start out as small ripples. Often we don’t see the results of the ripples of change we generate in this world until further down the line. When a volunteer plants a single willow, it may not make a huge difference that day or even that month, but give that willow time and it may come to stabilize a whole bank. Making waves means jumping in and getting your feet wet as volunteers did on the early season project at Braly Pond. There, living structures called bio-logs were installed, along with willow poles, to stop the banks from being eroded by the wind and waves ripping across the lake, and help vegetation to establish and create habitat for wildlife. And at the end of the second day of the Summit Lake project later that summer, volunteers left their rubber boots on the banks and waded in to the icy water to soak their feet after building new trails around a giant boulder they nicknamed “Stumpy.”

The rocks moved at the West Magnolia project may not have been quite as large as Stumpy but they certainly were sizable enough to deserve pet names of their own. Volunteers at West Magnolia continued a 2011 pilot project and a chance to turn some small ecological ripples into something much larger, by rebuilding even more sustainable trail tread on the Sugar Magnolia Trail, and re-vegating the surrounding area. On another trail construction project at the far-removed Phantom Canyon, volunteers had to wade across rushing water at multiple stream crossings before even reaching the project site. Once there, they enjoyed one of the state’s most secluded and beautiful areas.

But before any of the above projects were thrown into the 2012 pool of projects, the Boulder Greenways restoration events were making a different kind of ripple effect. On this project, volunteers worked side-by-side with residents whose homes backed up to open space land. In a flood of four projects, they washed out all of the myrtle spurge (a Colorado A-listed noxious weed) and by cooperating proactively with local homeowners, took the necessary steps to ensure it won’t return.

A Diverse Community
When Continental Divide Hikers crested the ridge of Glacier Peak at nearly 13,000 feet above sea level and saw Buddy the back-hoe driver waving hello, most could not help but stop and ask him what on earth he was doing up there. His answer: decompacting one track of old trespass road-bed to shrink it down to a single track to become part of the Continental Divide Trail.

Any event attended by big yellow machines pushing piles of dirt, rolling rocks, and digging holes is likely to draw a crowd of folks––particularly the younger set––and heavy machinery work at the Radiant Park restoration event did just that. This was one of WRV’s family-friendly projects. A youth-friendly attitude was also particularly clear at the Boulder Housing Partners Red Oak Community, where kids out numbered adults five to one at a WRV event! Most of these youth had also attended one of our ongoing after-school environmental discovery classes. Because they are the future of our community, engaging youth is a critical part of WRV’s diversity.

Speaking of diversity, during a new collaboration with Cherry Creek Stewardship Partners, volunteers spread a native seed mix with 100 different species, and covered 8.4 acres with billions of seeds in 2012! As you may know, when WRV volunteers aren’t planting, they are weeding; and nearly a hundred volunteers removed Mediterranean sage for the 9th year as part of the Boulder Prairie Restoration event. Monocultures of invasive species, such as Med. sage, could otherwise crowd out diverse native species, so this project help to greatly increase local biodiversity.

Strength in Numbers
As any seed collector will tell you, it is all about the numbers, not how full your bag looks. What they mean is that a seed bag that seems barely filled may actually contain thousands of tiny, valuable seeds. In addition to the 14 seed collections WRV carried out with Boulder County and City of Boulder, WRV volunteers also ventured north to collect seed at two locations on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. After collecting bags and bags to the brim with seed at the Big Creek Lakes and Med Bow Seed collections, volunteers retired to spectacular campsites to play games and enjoy the setting before falling asleep under a blanket of stars.

Halfway across Colorado, a small group of volunteers tucked under the summit of North Maroon Peak looked at the same stars on the same night. After braving a multitude of visitors at Maroon Bells Lake, they escaped to the solitude of the backcountry. When daylight peeked over the valley, the 14 volunteers were tempted from the warmth of their tents by the smell of warm pancakes. After breakfast, they hit the trail to build plank walls, construct rock steps, and transplant native vegetation.

While the Maroon crew traveled hundreds of miles to find majestic beauty, those lucky enough to arrive early at the St. Vrain Lafarge planting enjoyed a stunning pink sunrise right in their proverbial backyard. When they finally took their eyes off the sky, they helped find homes for more than 1,700 plants on the shore of Great Egret Pond.

Numbers of all types are important to WRV, and one that is often of concern is the temperature. Although both of the Boulder Creek Adopt-Site projects within the City of Boulder were huge successes, their temperatures represented diverse extremes. The first project was sandwiched between two 100+ degree days and the second was rainy and a chilly 50 degrees. But hardy and reliable volunteers prevailed. Despite unfavorable weather, there was almost no attrition and volunteers seeded 32,000 square feet.

Tools for Building a Community
At the Campbell Valley Watershed Restoration event, volunteers witnessed one of the fanciest tools to ever show up at a WRV project. Water Drop Films attended the project with a digital camera to film a short clip about volunteer work in the area over the past three years. A link to the clip can be found on WRV’s website under the photo gallery.

Perhaps in an attempt to buff up a bit for the Campbell Valley filming, volunteers at the Canyon Lakes and North Fork Trails projects used brute muscle as their major tools to haul massive amounts of rock and trees and obliterate over 16,000 feet of road. After working hard all summer, WRV tools must be cleaned and repaired before theirlong winter slumber. This was especially true of a batch of tools that was stored at Hewlett gulch right before the High Park fire. The fire burned so close to the tool stash that it scorched many wooden handles and even burned some all the way through! Volunteers at the October tool fests sharpened, painted, shined and repaired WRV’s cache.

Community Strength Results in Success
WRV is thankful for the many years of participation from CMC Boulder members as volunteers, and for funding that makes restoration results possible. Below is a list of highlights of 2012 work made possible in part thanks to CMC Boulder:

Number of projects completed: 74+
Number of projects since inception in 1999: 432+
Number of volunteer project attendances: 3,038
Number of volunteer training attendances: 369
Number of volunteer hours: 50,568
Value of volunteer hours: $1,114,015

Number of Youth Educational Hours: 656
Number of Americorps hours: 1,702
Number of active crew leaders: 114
Number of active cooks: 51
Number of active project leaders and assistants: 28
Number of active technical advisors and assistants: 48
Number of active tool managers and assistants: 15

Feet of stream channel or shoreline restored: 12,330
Feet of trail work (construction, closure/reveg, maintenance): 19,843
Feet of roadway obliterated and/or re-vegetated: 26,591

Number of trees, shrubs or plants planted: 15,314
Area (ft2) seeded: 7,642,008
Area (ft2) wetland restored: 79,720
Area (ft2) riparian habitat restored: 1,455,974
Area (ft2) mulched: 76,921
Area (acres) of wildlife habitat enhanced: 3,151
Person hours of native seed collection: 3,638

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