Troutapalooza

Gunnison Gorge Anglers

Troutapalooza is the fundraising and promotional engine for Gunnison Gorge Anglers, an award winning Trout Unlimited chapter dedicated to river conservation in Southwest Colorado.

2020 GGA Logo

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.

Conservation Projects: May 2023 to May 2024: UPDATES ON KEY ACTIVITIES

TELLURIDE VALLEY FLOOR - 2024 UPDATE

Over the last 10 years, Gunnison Gorge Anglers has generated original seed money at its Troutapalooza
fund raisers for the rehabilitation of the river channel and isolation of tailings material on Telluride's sacred
Valley Floor. Named "Best Trout Unlimited Conservation Project" for all of Colorado, our seed money
has garnered additional grants totalling millions of dollars to execute this landmark project. Much of the
work has been completed to restore a vibrant, healthy riparian zone and improving recreational
opportunities including fly fishing and paddle boarding. This year's project will restore some 15 acres and
3200 feet of river channel as discussed below.

An EPA Time Critical Removal Action removed 60,000 cubic yards of fluvial tailings from floodplain and
riparian habitat on National Forest System (NFS) lands and Town of Telluride property along the Valley
Floor from Fall 2020 through Fall 2022. During these two years, TU's involvement was minimal, but staff
anxiously anticipated ongoing operations at the site to fully restore that 15-acre footprint and 3,200 linear
feet of the channel immediately impacted by the Removal Action (reclamation of hazardous material).

To date, TU has secured federal, state, and private donations totaling $1.7 million for the ongoing
restoration of NFS lands along the Valley Floor. Contributions secured from the 2023 Troutapalooza event
accounted for non-federal match in TU's $1.26 million request to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
With funding in place, TU is advancing the design for the Valley Floor in collaboration with the USFS, the
Town of Telluride, the Town of Mountain Village, the San Miguel Watershed Coalition, Newmont Mining
Legacy Mine Program, and several private partners who are scheduled to provide measurable inputs to this
project. TU will oversee the construction of Boomerang Bridge alongside the USFS from July to August
2024. Construction of the bridge will restore egress for the Town of Mountain Village. Restoration along the
Valley Floor is scheduled to commence after bridge construction.

Post-removal conditions observed and measured by TU staff throughout the 2023 field season {May
through October) indicate that site-scale restoration is required at the site to restore physical and
ecological function. Moreover, site conditions are highly susceptible to large-scale impacts should the upper
San Miguel basin experience any naturally occurring or rapid changes in surface water flows. Data collected
on-site throughout the 2023 field season indicated deficiencies in physical channel form, failing riprap
stream stabilization infrastructure, and low vegetative recruitment across the 15 acres of riparian habitat.
Poor site trajectory and inadequacies in the former restoration approach result in a site that will not adapt
to a changing climate is not resilient to shifting hydrology, and is not resilient to natural occurrences of
wildfire or floods.

 

UNCOMPAGHRE RIVER ENHANCEMENT THROUGH BILLY CREEK STATE WILDLIFE AREA

The Billy Creek State Wildlife Area (BCSWA) is located just off Highway 550 between Ridgeway and
Montrose. The BCSWA includes access to about 1 mile of the Uncompahgre River which supports a
healthy population of rainbow and brown trout. For the past 5 years, the GGA has been working with
Trout Unlimited staff and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to enhance the trout fishery in the
Uncompahgre River in the BCSWA. The primary goal is to improve fish habitat and the "fishability" of
the river by strategically placing log and rock structures in several sections of the river. Over the past
year, GGA and CPW provided funding to Ecological Resource Consultants to develop a habitat
enhancement plan for the Uncompahgre River through the BCSWA. This final plan was completed in the
Fall of 2023. GGA and TU are currently applying for grants to complete a more detailed engineering
design plan for the project and to implement river restoration work.

For further Information, contact Luke Laurita ([email protected]) or John Hamill
([email protected] ).

CLEAR FORK OF EAST MUDDY CREEK PROJECT

In the fall of 2023, Trout Unlimited (TU) in cooperation with the US Forest Service and Colorado Parks
and Wildlife completed a fish barrier on the Clear Fork of East Muddy Creek. The purpose of the barrier
is to prevent the upstream migration of nonnative brook and rainbow trout to upstream reaches of the
Clear Fork. Completion of the fish barrier is the first step in the restoration of about 13 miles of
Colorado River Cutthroat Trout habitat in the Clear Fork. In 2024, CPW will monitor fish movement near
the barrier to ensure it is effectively blocking upstream fish migration of nonnative trout. In 2025, the
Clear Fork upstream of the fish barrier will be treated to remove all nonnative trout. In 2025-26, the
Clear Fork upstream of the barrier will be stocked with wild Colorado River Cutthroat Trout translocated
from small tributary streams in the drainage. The project is located in the Gunnison National Forest
about 26 miles northwest of Paonia, Colorado. GGA is one of 11 Federal, state, and local agencies, and
other nonprofit organizations that have provided funding and staff support for the project.
For more information contact Luke Laurita ([email protected]) or John Hamill, Vice President, GGA
email: [email protected]

The completed fish barrier is the first step in restoring a population of Colorado River Cutthroat trout in the

Clear Fork of East Muddy Creek, Gunnison National Forest.

MONTROSE TROUT IN THE CLASSROOM PROJECT

GGA financially sponsored a Trout in the Classroom school project. Middle and high school students in Montrose received rainbow trout eggs in the fall from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, then raised the fry over the winter for release in the spring into the Uncompahgre River.  While a fish release is the end result, the primary purpose of the program is to teach science, biology, water quality, and conservation ethics.  Peak Academy teacher Doug Eccher and GGA President Joel Evans prep a cup to transfer aquarium fish to a calm back eddy along the river.

May 2021: Mayfly/Uncompahgre Project

River and riparian area restoration work was completed in March on approximately 2/3 mile of the Uncompahgre River north of Main Street in Montrose on the Colorado Outdoors/Mayfly properties. An official dedication/ribbon-cutting was held on Earth Day April 22nd , to commemorate this first phase of this project by the City of Montrose, Mayfly and GGA Trout Unlimited. (See photo below of dignitaries including Joel Evans in the middle – he is GGA’s coordinator for all of the Unc. River Projects).

Unique features of this project include 4 flow bypass fishery channels that will hold trout and lower velocity flows during the high flow irrigation months of April – September (see attached photo) . The main channel will carry higher flows for rafting and kayaking (see photo below) . This stretch of water is also designated as Catch and Release only in attempts to develop and maintain a larger wild brown trout population in this stretch of the river. The remainder of the river corridor downstream will be improved in future phases of project development.

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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

Uncompahgre corridor in north Montrose

CPW protects the rehabilitated Uncompahgre

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Trout survey in rehabilitation zone

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Good for trout, good for anglers

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2014-Present: San Miguel Valley Floor

Over the last 6 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.

The Telluride Town Council had approved and received funding to complete 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 in 2020 resolved 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.

There will be some additional mine tailings work this summer at a different location on the Valley Floor - see the Mine Tailings project report below.

Before

San Miguel Valley Floor After

After

San Miguel Valley Floor Before

Abandoned Mines/Tailings Restoration

Trout Unlimited has expanded their water conservation efforts by getting actively involved in some of the abandoned mines and tailings runoff in the San juan Basin area. Quite a daunting task with over 30,000 abandoned sites in the western U.S.! TU has added a permanent staffer in Montrose to be actively involved in restoration projects affecting the Uncompahgre, San Miguel and Gunnison River drainages. He is Tanner Banks - a national TU Project Manager that recently moved to Montrose for the northern San Juan Basin Projects - his contact info is [email protected] if you need to contact him.
The Atlas Mine tailings restoration project in the Yankee Boy basin just over the mountain from Telluride was completed in the fall of last year - TU was the lead agency in the design and restoration of over 10 acres of tailings that had high levels of lead, arsenic and a 3.4 pH (normal is 7.0). TU worked with the mine owners, Forest Service and state and national environmental protection agencies for approvals and funding to complete the project. The photo shows the completed encased tailings with a furrowed covering of lime and fertilizer to neutralize any runoff.
In addition to the work on the tailings projects on the Valley Floor, Tanner is leading TU's big restoration project in Governor Basin which sits above the Yankee Boy site. The design and field work will occur this summer and the actual restoration work of four different mines/tailings will be completed in 2022.
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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.

Before

Gunnison River Diversion Dam Before

After

Gunnison River Diversion Dam After