Steamboat Springs Mother Nature got some help last week.
A man-made dam caused flooding to wetlands behind the basketball courts at Steamboat Springs High School. Vandals ripped up fence posts intended to protect tress, shrubbery and other vegetation from further vandalism and uprooted newly planted seedlings to create a blockade on a section of Spring Creek that triggered flooding of adjacent wetlands.
Steamboat Springs High School is offering a $100 reward to anyone who offers information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who caused an estimated $5,000 in damage to the Spring Creek Trail Area.
"It's really disheartening that somebody would come and vandalize something that's really for the public's enjoyment," said Rick Denney, facilities director for the Steamboat Springs School District.
Denney said about 150 man-hours, some of which was completed by local Boy Scouts, went into the project to restore wetlands and beautify the area.
The damage occurred on less than an acre of school district property.
After a maintenance worker discovered uprooted seedlings last Tuesday morning, a fence was placed around the site to prevent further vandalism. The fence unfortunately offered not a deterrent, but a means to further damage the area.
Vandals dug up the fence posts a few days later and placed them across the 15- to 20-foot wide Spring Creek.
They plugged the holes in the fence with large shrubs and uprooted seedlings to stop the flow of water. The makeshift dam caused water to spill onto the bank and into the small, secondary stream that feeds the wetlands.
The earlier construction of a dam along a branch of Spring Creek began initial restoration of the wetlands. The dam, made of concrete and large rocks, permitted only a small amount of water to flow through the wetlands area.
The same people who constructed the makeshift dam obviously attempted to tear down the concrete dam, but they were only able to remove its top layer.
The damage, however, was just enough to permit water from Spring Creek to spill over the top and into the wetlands area. Flooding was augmented by the removal of an instrument that releases water from Spring Creek into the wetlands.
The large amount of water that spilled from several directions into the wetlands caused not only flooding, but also erosion, Denney said. The first episode of vandalism likely occurred around May 25 or 26 and the second episode of vandalism occurred May 28, he said.
Vandalism at the site last year caused thousands of dollars in damage, he added.
But the extent of the damage suggests the people responsible for the site's destruction knew what they were doing, Denney said.
"It appears to be an organized effort," he said.
The destructive, makeshift dam has been removed to return Spring Creek to original flow, but no repairs can be made to the wetlands until late summer or early fall when the water recedes, he said. Property damage that exceeds $500 is classified as a felony.
Because harm to the wetlands and surrounding vegetation involves thousands of dollars in damage, the people responsible for the crime face stiff penalties, said Art Fiebing, Assistant Chief of the Steamboat Springs Police Department.
It was disappointing a project intended to spruce up the area and benefit the public was targeted, he said.
"It's really kind of a sad situation," Fiebing said. "All they were trying to do is to get some more growth in there."
People with information about the vandalism should contact the Steamboat Springs Police Department at 879-1144.