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June 26, 2008 — When the Vail Valley Foundation and its partners closed on the 72-acre Eagle River Preserve parcel on Sept. 13, 2005, everyone involved acknowledged that returning the former gravel pit to its natural state would definitely be a work in progress.
Now, almost three years later, the first phase of the reclamation is nearing completion, with public tours tentatively slated for the site in September. Eagle River Preserve is slowly morphing back to a condition similar to what it once was 100 years ago when the valley’s population was largely farmers and ranchers.
“The work that has been done on Eagle River Preserve is incredible,” said Ceil Folz, president of the Vail Valley Foundation, which spearheaded the fundraising campaign to save the parcel as open space. “To see in our lifetime the transformation of this property back to what it once was is an honor and privilege.”
Three short years ago, Eagle River Preserve showed the scars of three decades of gravel mining, with chalky, hard-packed soil and sediment ponds. Today, with the removal of the heavy mining equipment and the addition of fill material, the new open space project is taking shape. A new stream and a series of ponds and wetlands have been constructed, and numerous trees and shrubs have been planted. Native wildlife is returning. Foxes are now a common site, Canadian geese and other water birds enjoy the new ponds and a bear has also been spotted near the Eagle River’s edge.
Eagle County, which now owns the property, is overseeing the restoration of Eagle River Preserve, with governance provided by a strict conservation easement that was put in place at the time the property was purchased.
“The idea was to create different areas within the Preserve so that people could find places for quiet solitude as they wished,” explained Cliff Simonton, Senior Planner for Eagle County Community Development. “There will be plenty of opportunity to get away from everything, with rolling terrain, pathways, waterfalls, big trees and native vegetation and, of course, a beautiful pristine section of the Eagle River corridor.”
The dirt features that dot the Preserve are the result of a year’s worth of work that includes the deposit and shaping of over 700,000 cubic yards of dirt, much of it coming from the numerous construction projects that stretch from one end of the valley to the other. In addition, the dumping fees for this dirt have been deposited in Eagle County’s Eagle River Preserve Fund so that the current reclamation efforts, along with these new features, have come at no expense to taxpayers.
“This fact is really part of the true beauty of Eagle River Preserve,” Folz continued. “The purchase of this property was a grass roots, community-based effort. The fact that the improvements today continue in that vein at little to no cost to the citizens is an important feature. While the supply of dirt has slowed with some of the recent construction projects getting put on hold, we’re confident that phase one can be open for public tours by September.”
Another example of the cooperative spirit in play with Eagle River Preserve is the fact that B&B Excavating, the owners of the gravel mining operation, is shaping the dirt into features as part of their mine land reclamation effort.
“Their contribution to and support of the project from day one has been absolutely tremendous.” Simonton noted.
The pond and stream complex utilizes water from the J.M Dodd Ditch, which was purchased with the property. Work on the water feature was partially funded by a recent grant from the Natural Resources Defense Fund.
“Norris Design created a great landscaping and water feature plan, and the workers from American Civil Construction have put a lot of time and personal touches into the building of the first phase of the Preserve” Simonton added. “The water features will no doubt be a popular destination for visitors, not to mention waterfowl and other wildlife that thrive in that environment.”
Next up on the “to do” list is the final seeding of the site, and the addition of fencing, signs and sitting benches. Civic groups and youth organizations are being solicited to help with some of the labor and local construction companies are stepping up to volunteer. A citizen’s committee has been established to help determine the various uses and facilities for the parcel.
“When Eagle River Preserve is completed, it will be a wonderful gift to both the residents and guests of Eagle County,” concluded Folz. “It is something that we can pass down to future generations as a reminder of how beautiful natural environments on the valley floor were 100 years ago.”
For additional information on Eagle River Preserve, contact the Eagle County Community Development Department or the Eagle Valley Land Trust.
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