Rebuilding riverbanks |

Rebuilding riverbanks

Restoration project replaces cars with native plants

The view out the windshield of a front-end loader driven by excavator Marv Shively on Monday on the Yampa River near Routt County Road 14F. As part of a riverbank restoration project, Shively dug loads of plants and reeds from the island downstream and re-planted them on the riverbank to reduce erosion and improve the riparian habitat. The island will be fully removed next year.
Mike Lawrence

— Marv Shively spent Monday afternoon rolling on the river.

As part of an ongoing stream habitat improvement project on the Yampa River at the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area, Shively, Bill Chase and excavator Billy Jankoski are installing native vegetation on a stretch of cleared riverbank to reduce erosion and improve the riparian habitat. The wildlife area is just south of Steamboat Springs city limits, near Routt County Road 14F.

The large clumps, or “mats,” of vegetation come from a small island about 100 yards downstream from the work area. To get to the island, Shively drove a yellow front-end loader up and down the river, through water that flowed more than halfway up the large wheels.

“Using the river as a road doesn’t mess up the riverbanks,” Jankoski said.

The island will be fully removed in a future phase of the project to condense the main channel of the river and increase the river’s depth in low-water periods.

Chase and Jankoski said the mats of native willows, alders, reeds, rushes and sedges will catch sediment brought downstream by the river, and deposit that sediment on the riverbank, significantly reducing erosion.

“It builds the bank and strengthens it every year,” Chase said. “If the system is working right, it’s self-perpetuating – and there’s nothing better than that.”

The project’s initial phase was the removal of more than 40 rusted, old cars, installed more than 30 years ago to stabilize the riverbank.

“There’s a taillight,” Chase said Monday, leaning over to fish the light out of the mud.

The crew took advantage of Monday’s warm weather to get in the river and move the mats of vegetation.

“This is about the only time of year we can get on it,” Shively said, citing the need for slow-moving river water. “It’s kind of a sprint.”

Sometimes “the sprint” can be a little risky. Driving a front-end loader upstream, with a bucket full of plants and soil, Shively occasionally hit a bump in the river.

“I get to talking and I forget where the rocks are,” he said with a grin.

The Yampa Valley Fly Fishers is coordinating the restoration project, along one mile of the river. Through its separate not-for-profit trust – the Yampa Valley Stream Improvement Charitable Trust – the Fly Fishers has raised more than $140,000 in cash to help fund a $700,000 budget for the project, scheduled for completion no earlier than 2008.

Contributions to the charitable trust can be made at

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