Troutapalooza is the fundraising and promotional engine for Gunnison Gorge Anglers, an award winning Trout Unlimited chapter dedicated to river conservation in Southwest Colorado.
In the last decade, Troutapalooza has provided the seed money for landmark restoration projects on the Gunnison, Uncompahgre and San Miguel rivers, including the reclamation of the river channel on Telluride's Valley Floor.
2020: Restoring the Uncompahgre
Story and photos by Joel Evans, GGA
Over the last several years, Gunnison Gorge Anglers has backed Mayfly Outdoors and Colorado Parks & Wildlife in restoring the Uncompahgre River through downtown Montrose for improved fishing and public access on a river with longtime potential but historically limited fishing opportunity. Despite deprecated habitat and wildly fluctuating river flows, significant populations of wild rainbow and brown trout subsist on the river's abundant aquatic life. Trout in the 16"-18" class exist in surprising numbers, evidencing the clear potential for an impressive fishery. Money and manpower have matched a common will to create a public resource that will fundamentally change the north end of Montrose by offering quality river access for many forms of recreation and leisure, chief among them fly fishing.
Uncompahgre Project Facts:
· The Montrose Urban Renewal Authority was formed in collaboration with the City of Montrose and Colorado Outdoors, LLC. The MURA boundary encompasses approximately 170 acres in northwestern Montrose and includes the Uncompahgre River.
· Utility construction and construction of roadways were completed in December of 2018.
· Construction of Mayfly Outdoors headquarters building was completed in the spring of 2019 and is used to manufacture Ross and Abel fly fishing reels.
· Construction of a public recreation trail paralleling the Uncompahgre River was completed in 2019 with funding assistance from Great Outdoors Colorado and the Montrose Recreation District.
· MURA has also been working on the design of habitat improvement and river stabilization. This project extends from West Main Street to the northern end of the MURA boundary. Initial design efforts were completed by Ecological Resource Consultants in consultation with a local volunteer river design committee.
· The Uncompahgre River currently consists of both channelized, relatively stable reaches and meandering, dynamic reaches. Existing fish habitat is marginal throughout most of the project.
· Stream improvement goals are to improve fish habitat, stabilize river banks where necessary to prevent lateral retreat, maintain a natural, user friendly and inviting feel for the river system, functionality during both high and low flows, and allow boaters to pass through the project while not encouraging whitewater surfing,
Partners include the City of Montrose, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Outdoors, Friends of the River Uncompahgre, Montrose Urban Renewal Authority, Telluride Angler, and Trout Unlimited Gunnison Gorge Anglers.
Uncompahgre River corridor, north Montrose
CPW protects the rehabilitated Uncompahgre
Trout survey in rehabilitation zone
Good for trout, good for anglers
2014-Present: San Miguel Valley Floor
Over the last 5 years, Gunnison Gorge Anglers has generated the original seed money at its Troutapalooza fundraiser for the rehabilitation of the river channel on Telluride’s sacred Valley Floor. Named “Best Trout Unlimited Conservation Project” for all of Colorado, our seed money has garnered additional grants totaling millions of dollars to execute this landmark project. Much of the work has been completed, restoring a vibrant, healthy riparian zone and improving recreational opportunities including fly fishing and paddle boarding. Funding has been committed for the final stage, explained in further detail here:
The Telluride Town Council has approved and received funding for the next phase (Phase 2) of the VF Restoration work involving Society Turn Mine Tailings and the San Miguel River restoration at the west end of the Valley Floor. The total project cost of $3.3 million includes $1.4 million for the River Restoration and $1.93 million for the Tailings Remediation. The other project partners include Valley Floor Conservation Partners, Trout Unlimited, Idarado Mining Company, Colorado Water Conservation Board and the State of Colorado. Other local non-profits were involved in obtaining the funds from the CWCB.
Highlights of the Phase 2 Project include:
- Habitat and channel restoration of over 1.5 miles of the river
- Moving the river channel away from the 23 acre tailings pile
- Utilizing existing berm material in the vicinity to isolate the tailings material from river and wetlands; this avoids hauling large amounts of material on paved roads
- Preserve the spruce stands in that area
Completion of this phase will resolve the long-standing tailings pile issue. Combined with the Phase 1 work completed in 2016, these efforts will result in almost 3 miles of completed river restoration work on the Valley Floor.
2009-2013: Gunnison River Diversion Dam Reconstruction
Between 2009 and 2013, Gunnison Gorge Anglers collaborated with stakeholders to redesign the diversion structure located 4 miles below the North Fork confluence with the main branch of the Gunnison River. The existing structure was operated by the Relief Ditch Irrigation Company in service of a senior water right, a benefit of which is keeping minimum flows in the Gunnison. The diversion, however, created challenges for fish and fishermen alike. The structure featured many vertically placed railroad ties that were a significant hazard to boaters. It created a significant drop in the river, impassable to fish and an additional hazard to boaters. Heavy equipment frequently entered the river to restore the diversion after high water washouts.
A lengthy collaboration involving critical diplomacy between river users and agricultural interests resulted in the redesign and reconstruction of the diversion, completed in spring 2013.
Since completion of the project, the Relief Ditch Irrigation Company has not had to put any heavy equipment into the Gunnison River and has received their full share of water. Fish are freely moving through the diversion since the velocity and drop of the water flow has been significantly reduced. No concrete grouting of the rocks placed in the river was required, which provides resting sites and easy passage for fish. Floaters are no longer having their boats flipped or impaled while negotiating the diversion.
This project represents a major collaborative effort involving multiple participants and went a long way toward building a level of trust between water users in the lower Gunnison basin and Trout Unlimited. Hopefully it will be a springboard to more projects in the future. It would not have been successful without the involvement of local chapter members on the ground, Colorado Trout Unlimited staff, and national Trout Unlimited.