Work nearing completion on Yampa River trout habitat improvements
November 7, 2013
Steamboat Springs — If it all finishes up the way the likes of Jim Curd and Drew Johnroe expect, many in Steamboat Springs may never know the difference.
The Yampa Valley Stream Improvement charitable trust has been working to improve waterways in the region for more than 30 years, and its work can be seen in clean, smooth-flowing streams all across the area. It tackled its biggest project in 2006, when it set to work on the Yampa River southeast of Steamboat Springs in the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area.
Now, after it divvied that task into three phases, the final elements are just a week away from completion. An area of the river that once was a shallow, eroded mess strewn with trash will be one of the premier rainbow trout fisheries in the state. What previously was a stretch of river Steamboat anglers were more likely to avoid will become a fishermen's paradise.
"The fishing prior to doing these various improvements wasn't anything to write home about," said Johnroe, a member of the trust's board. "The river was scoured and now it's just becoming a beautiful river and a beautiful resource.
"Steamboat Springs is one of the premier, if not the premier, locations in Colorado for fly-fishing."
The project cost about $1 million, and getting to this point has been a monumental task. The funds were raised from private donors, benefit events and through grants from government programs and other organizations.
The first stage, in 2006, involved dragging 88 cars from the river's banks and cost $100,000.
"It's beautiful now," Johnroe said.
The trust partnered with the city of Steamboat Springs for the second stage, a $300,000 project upstream of Chuck Lewis. It reconditioned the river, cleaned up a dump, stabilized the banks and moved the river 50 yards back to its channel.
The third stage, which is underway, has heavy equipment digging in the river to create structures for fish habitat, channeling and deepening the river and creating pools. Even the placement of rocks and other breaks in the water were studied to help cut back on the pike population and make a world-class sanctuary for growing trout.
Now the section of river will be used as a rearing ground for a strain of rainbow trout resistant to whirling disease.
"Doing that will benefit all the fishing in the state," Johnroe said. "This river is engineered to create a better trout habitat."
The final phase of the project is contracted to North State Environmental, an environment and stream restoration firm based in North Carolina. Seeing those workers laboring through the final stages of the project has been emotional for the local leaders who admittedly bit off just about all they could manage on the Yampa River project. It's been a decade of fundraisers such as golf tournaments, of lining up workers and volunteers and of looking for money to make it all happen.
"It's been a lot of hard work, a lot of years of volunteer labor, headaches and joy, and it's going to be a great thing to see it finished," said Curd, another board member. "It's been a long process and to just be able to finish it up and turn it over to Steamboat and the anglers will be great.
"It's a great resource that will be there forever, for my kids and my kids’ kids."