Restoration of the Upper Eagle River – Colorado

I recently partnered with the National Forest Foundation on one of 14 restoration sites within the NFF’s Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences national conservation campaign.  I’ve been photographing for the Camp Hale Restoration project located in Colorado’s White River National Forest.  The goals of the project are watershed and riparian restoration of the Upper Eagle River as well as invasive weed eradication/removal at Camp Hale, the former high mountain training facility for the US Military’s famed 10th Mountain Division.

Afternoon Light on the Headwaters of the Eagle River

Afternoon Light on the Headwaters of the Eagle River

“Tucked into a high elevation watershed along the west slope of the Continental Divide in central Colorado are the headwaters of the Eagle River, a prominent tributary of the Upper Colorado River. These source waters flow from each winter’s snowpack and they are the life blood of human an ecological communities in both western and eastern Colorado. The headwaters of the Eagle River also provide critical habitat for wildlife such as elk, bear, lynx, pine marten, marmot, pika, otter, trout, boreal toad, white-tailed ptarmigan, rosy finches, migratory songbirds and waterfowl.

Looking Toward the Source of the Eagle River

Looking Toward the Source of the Eagle River

In 1942 the Eagle River headwaters, and 240,000 acres surrounding, became a winter and mountain warfare training camp during World War II, housing up to 17,000 troops. Camp Hale, elevation 9,200 feet, was established here because of the natural setting including a large, flat wetlands meadow, surrounded by steep slopes suitable for training in skiing, rock climbing, and winter survival skills.

Remnants of Camp Hale - Colorado

Remnants of Camp Hale – Colorado

Brimming with natural values for America’s people and communities, our 193-million-acre National Forest System gives us clean air and water, diverse wildlife habitat and abundant outdoor recreation opportunities. Today, the challenges to the future of all these values are as complex and numerous as the forest ecosystems themselves. From wildfire to invasive species to climate change, many factors threaten the resources we need and the wild places we cherish” (National Forest Foundation, Treasured Landscapes, White River National Forest “Camp Hale Restoration Project“).

Exploring the Headwaters of the Eagle River

Exploring the Headwaters of the Eagle River

The scenery surrounding the headwaters of the Upper Eagle River near Camp Hale is quintessential Colorado high country: mixed conifers, aspens, sagebrush, large open valleys, huge mountains and of course a river. One of the Colorado River’s upper tributaries, the Eagle travels 60 miles west through deep canyons once explored by John C. Fremont during his expeditions in the early 1840s. It passes by abandoned mines that once produced huge payloads of gold, silver and zinc from 1879 – 1984. And it defines the Eagle River Valley, leaving its mark as it courses through the towns of Redcliff, Gilmam, Minturn, Avon, Edwards, Eagle, Gypsum and finally Dotsero were it joins the Colorado. During Camp Hale’s construction, the Civilian Conservation Corp straightened a section of the Upper Eagle and drained the valley’s wetlands.

Straightened Section of the Upper Eagle River - Camp Hale, Colorado

Straightened Section of the Upper Eagle River – Camp Hale, Colorado

Seventy years later, I’m am so excited to help spread the word about this restoration project. My desire to be involved stemmed from the influence of one of my heroes, the Archdruid David Brower, a 10th Mountain Division WWII veteran and environmental leader who talked about an idea of humans needing to perform CPR on the Earth – Conservation, Preservation and Restoration. He believed that by restoring the Earth, we become restored.

“Broken eggs must remain broken, but broken hearts may be mended with love.  Extinct species are gone, but endangered plants and animals may be brought back from the brink.  Exhausted fields can renew themselves. Grass can annihilate pavement. So long as life lasts, dashed hopes stand a chance…We must ever answer the question, “But what can I do?” with the realization that restoring the Earth, making things better, renews and heals us at the same time.

Restoration means putting the Earth’s life-support systems back in working order: rivers, forests, wetlands, deserts, soil and endangered species too. Many dams on many rivers have been made uneccessary by new systems of energy generation and distribution. Let’s take out those superfluous dams, beginning with Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy, which never should have been dammed, and let’s drain Glen Canyon. We need forests not tree plantations. Wetlands, as we’re beginning to learn, purify our drinking water, acting like giant filters. Ducks like them too” (Brower, David,Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run. 2000. pp 91-92).

Adventure in the White River National Forest

Adventure in the White River National Forest

This restoration project is just beginning and will take a number of years to both complete and see the positive effects. But even in its infancy, I already feel a lightness inside me. Thank you, Mr. Brower. Here are a few links to learn more about the National Forest Foundation’s Treasured Landscapes Conservation Campaigns including the Camp Hale Restoration as well as information about David Brower and some amazing grassroots organizations that are fighting to restore the Colorado River: Save the Colorado River, Defend the ColoradoGlen Canyon Institute and the Watershed Movie.

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