Hayden Small, multicolored tents were nestled around the tall narrowleaf cottonwood trees next to the Yampa River on the Carpenter Ranch. These trees are one form of vegetation that volunteers, mostly from the Front Range, worked to plant Saturday and Sunday along the Yampa River at the ranch to help stabilize the riparian forests native to this section of the river.
The Carpenter Ranch provided an ideal location for the project, being one of the few areas that has a riparian forest that is found primarily on the river between Milner and Craig. An increase in erosion during the past 50 years, evident through the gradual loss of the river's sinuosity, gave reason for the Volunteers of Outdoor Colorado and The Nature Conservancy to take action.
Volunteers came and camped out at the ranch to both experience the beauty of Colorado and to give something back to it. Volunteers Aaron Wieselman and Cory Lampert of Denver met each other hiking the Appalachian trail. They said their 1,400-mile hike helped them appreciate all the work trail crews did to maintain such a long trail, and they decided to volunteer their time to help maintain the outdoors of Colorado.
"I wanted to participate, because it was such an unique project, combining agriculture and conservation," Lampert said. The Carpenter Ranch is working to protect the environment but also the ranching lifestyle indigenous to the roots of Routt County.
The Carpenter Ranch, owned by The Nature Conservancy, formed a partnership with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado to implement the project. Heath Mackay, volunteers' projects director, said the ranch was an ideal location because there is no potential for the area to be developed and volunteers can return to the ranch about every two to three years to monitor the impact of the revegetation project. This project was planned with the intention to prevent erosion and continue the proliferation of riparian forests, but it was also designed as a research project that will attempt to monitor the success of revegetation in an agricultural area. Mackay said the Yampa is one of two rivers in Colorado that is not dammed; therefore, it has natural flooding processes conducive to study.
Although the Yampa is a healthy river with only mild erosion patterns, planting vegetation such as cottonwoods, willows, service berry and hawthorn will help prevent the river's erosion from developing into an irreparable problem with time.
To conduct this study, all the trees and plants were marked with a flag and logged into a global positioning system so they could be evaluated at a later date to see if they survived. The project members also want to determine at what length vegetation planted off the bank of a river will help prevent erosion. Fence was placed around the planted vegetation to prevent livestock and other animals from desecrating the areas being regrown.
Ann Davidson of The Nature Conservancy said livestock don't really endanger the riparian forest, but the clearing of land that occurred earlier in the history of Routt County for agricultural purposes probably contributed to the increase in erosion as trees and brush surrounding the river were cleared to make pasture land.