Facelift coming for Carbondale stretch of the Crystal River | PostIndependent.com

Facelift coming for Carbondale stretch of the Crystal River

Josie Taris
The Aspen Times
A coalition of groups, including Pitkin County Healthy Rivers & Streams, will fund a $2 million restoration project on a stretch of the Crystal River in Carbondale.
Josie Taris/The Aspen Times

Public access to the Crystal River in Carbondale is set for a major boon after a coalition of funders came together to restore a stretch of the Crystal, including money from Pitkin County.

“There’s really not a good river access point for people in Carbondale right now,” said Carbondale Mayor Ben Bohmfalk. “And I love the idea that we can work together to make this happen.”

Construction on the park is set to begin in May, with in-channel work to begin after runoff flows subside in July with construction through summer and early fall. Some of the vegetation and irrigation work could be completed in spring 2024.

The restoration will work on narrowing a widening channel, stabilizing 900 feet of eroding riverbank, and re-introducing local flora along the quarter-mile stretch of the river from Crystal Bridge Drive to the Carbondale Fish Hatchery. 

Flora like willows, alders, and other native vegetation will help repair the riparian zone along the project site.

“The project is designed to emulate natural conditions,” said Quinn Donnelly, project manager and river engineer with River Restoration. 

Installing boulders in the waterway will also help control velocity and flow diversity along the river, as well as create pools for fish and other wildlife, he said.

And the project aims to improve public accessibility and enjoyment on the 11.4 acres along the river owned by the town.

Riverfront Park currently does not have ADA-compliant access or much infrastructure for visitors. The new plan includes an accessible ramp, four fishing access points, and an outdoor classroom for local schools to bring students on educational field trips. 

Stephen Ellsperman is the director of ecological planning and design with the landscape architecture firm DHM Design, which partnered with River Restoration to design the park.

“We have a really neat opportunity here to build this classroom as it steps down into the river itself,” he said. “One component of this classroom is beam stone stairways, which will allow students and the public to access the river and develop it to span the season of water throughout the year.”

Public utility for the park also includes about 2,500 feet of trail improvements and 90 feet of boardwalk reconstruction.

And funding will go toward maintenance of the Weaver Ditch, a Carbondale-owned diversion mostly used for raw water irrigation of Carbondale’s open space, parks, golf courses, schoolyards and residents’ yards.

A coalition of stakeholders will contribute to the $2 million price tag. Contributors include Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Aspen Valley Land Trust, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Town of Carbondale, Colorado River District, Great Outdoor Colorado, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) Water Plan Grant.

Pitkin County Commissioners Francie Jacober, Kelly McNicholas Kury, and Steve Child all attended a site visit along the project area on March 27. 

Quinn Donnelly (center) speaks with Pitkin County commissioners and staff, plus other local government representatives, at a site visit to the Crystal River on Monday.
Josie Taris/Aspen Times

The Board of County Commissioners approved a slew of supplemental budget requests on Wednesday, including funds for the Riverfront Park Project Weaver Ditch. In total, the county will provide $425,000 of the Healthy Rivers & Streams money to the project. 

Even though the scope of the project lies in Garfield County, no funding for the project will come from Garfield County coffers.

“It is still distressing to me that Garfield County is not participating, and that we’re playing such a big role in that,” Jacober said after the site visit. “Definitely it is part of our waters, and the Crystal River flowers a long way through Pitkin.”

Donnelly said that he approached Pitkin County for funding because Healthy Rivers & Streams’ purview includes all of the Roaring Fork Valley and its tributaries. 

In January, the River Board unanimously recommended funding $425,000 toward the project at Riverfront Park.

The park will be free and open to the public year-round, access closed only during a bald-eagle closure in the winter. Dogs will not be allowed in the park.

This rendering illustrates the two types of fishing accesses to be constructed on the Crystal River.
DHM Design/Courtesy Photo

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