Retree, volunteers plant more than 350 trees along Yampa River on Saturday

Yampa Valley Sustainability Council Executive Director Michelle Stewart tosses a sandwich to a volunteer. Aided by volunteers, the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council planted 355 narrowleaf cottonwoods along the south bank of the Yampa on Saturday, near River Creek Park in Steamboat Springs.
Shelby Reardon

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — About 80 people helped plant trees along the Yampa River on Saturday for Retree 2020. They had to really care about the cause, because getting to the planting site required wading through a foot of cold water early in the morning.

“It woke us up a bit,” volunteer Annie Doer said. “It was a bit of an adventure.”

Once at the site, the volunteers aided the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council in planting 355 narrowleaf cottonwood trees along a designated stretch of the river. Volunteers entered the water just north of River Creek Park.

Doer said she’s been wanting to volunteer for the project for a while, and now that her young kids — Coen and Lyra — are old enough to join, it became a fun family outing for a fall Saturday.

“We had to dig a hole, water it, put the tree in, fill it in, water it more, mulch, then pack it down,” said Coen Doer. 

The trees are native to the area and were reared at the Colorado State Forest Nursery in Fort Collins from clippings from the Yampa Valley, so they are used to the environment. 

Ideally, most of the trees will survive and eventually, become a full cottonwood canopy along the river.

Last year, 200 trees were planted in a nearby spot and nearly 600 more will be planted farther down stream next year.

All volunteers wore masks and gloves, but the task accommodated for social distancing well. A small group or pair of volunteers each had a small grid to work with, planting trees in clumps. The trees are 1, 2 or 3 years old, the tallest standing at about 3 feet with a few dozen leaves.

“Tried to do a little bit of mixing (of size),” Sustainability Council Executive Director Michelle Stewart said. “We did a cluster distribution so that, in time, they’ll fill in and make a really nice, tall, cottonwood canopy.”

The location was determined as one in need for restoration as part of the Yampa River Health Assessment and Streamflow Management Plan, adopted in 2018.

One of the persistent problems plaguing the Yampa is increasing water temperature. A way to solve that is providing more shade.

The trees have more than a fighting chance, since the Sustainability Council secured funding to install irrigation to keep the trees watered. Fencing has also been installed around the new trees, preventing animals from munching on them.

Jim and Julie Daehn sat on the rolled up fencing, admiring their work. The couple saw the event in the newspaper and decided to make the journey from Stagecoach early in the morning to volunteer. 

“We use the trail,” Julie Daehn said. “You got to give back. You need shade on a day like today.”

“We thought they could use more trees along the river,” Jim Daehn added. 

Retree has a 10-year history in the Yampa Valley of increasing the diversity and health of local forests and riparian areas while connecting the community to the environment. Acorss 10 years of projects, Retree has brought together nearly 2,500 volunteers to plant more than 25,000 trees.

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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