Your Watershed column: Of wild and scenic watersheds and film fests
As snow begins its March melt, a new air-born fragrance is likely to spark a contagion we welcome spring fever. The combined aromas of rotting grass, decomposing worms, wet pavement and thawing earth all release “spring.”
That sweet, fresh, or murky earthen smell comes from geosmin, a compound byproduct of vegetation-consuming bacteria. Wonderful places to inoculate yourself are the riparian areas along the Colorado River and its tributaries, such as No Name, Grizzly, and Mitchell, East Divide and Rifle creeks. Too many to name.
Riparian corridors are the vascular system of our arid West. These lush, aqueous threads of vitality provide unique habitat, cover and food for many of the species that make us Colorado proud: teal, mallards, the ghostly blue heron, osprey, owls, and thousands of migrating songbirds, familiar bald eagles hunched on silvered cottonwoods or ponderosa boughs, cougars, curious coyotes, nonchalant bighorn, bear, elk, deer, and indignant, industrious beavers. We must include the “lesser” creatures, too — the skunks, muskrats, weasels and rodents, bats, lizards, and of course, trout.
This year, make a vow to spend at least a handful of moments in riparian areas doing nothing — not running, not mountain biking, not hiking. Pack a hot thermos of tea or an icy amber. Sit with your back to a sun-warmed boulder. Find the base of a massive tree trunk, shifting your bottom into the rich duff and fungal leaf litter where thick, ancient roots have witnessed the passing feet of Utes.
Breathe … in that … geosmin. Do you sense it? Eyes closed, primal memory blossoms in your nose: hints of life, the promise of abundance; sigh. Slowly open your eyes to new detail. Marvel at each miracle within three feet of your own. Feet, that is. Watch a beetle stumble about and allow yourself the chuckle. Notice two magpies flirt as they add to their nest in the hawthorn thicket. Watch one chipmunk’s outrage at another as they get all aggro in the turf battle.
Put your hand or bare feet in the water. Note the burn of snowmelt on your skin. Squat like a raccoon and pick a boulder from the shallows. Flip it over. What do you see? Which squirming morsel would a spawning rainbow lunge at, on your rock? A stonefly larvae? The caddis, as it shrinks within a husk of sand and grit?
As wild as these places feel, the impacts of people at play, farming, and industry take a toll in direct and indirect ways. Recreation or repose, if these places mean anything to you, volunteer or donate to the organizations working to ensure healthy ecosystems and clean water.
The Middle Colorado Watershed Council (MCWC) is a nonprofit formed in 2009 to protect and enhance the Colorado River. From the mouth of the Glenwood Canyon downstream to DeBeque, MCWC’s mission is to evaluate, protect and enhance the health of the middle Colorado River watershed through the cooperative effort of watershed stakeholders. MCWC staff are essentially a data portal, gathering, evaluating and applying science and research to on-the-ground projects, education, and stewardship. Staff and volunteers work to ensure a flourishing watershed for the well-being of the community and local economies.
Ah, economics — planning and management, restoration, river clean-ups, and water quality monitoring cost. MCWC operates on fundraising, donations, and grants. Thanks to donors and sponsors, MCWC will “snip the tippet” on their brand new Colorado River interpretive center, River Stop, adjacent to the MCWC offices at the Rifle rest stop. With $60,000 and infinite excitement, MCWC worked with local science teachers, wildlife ecologists, environmental educators, and park rangers to develop modern, compelling displays and dioramas to show and tell the story of the American West’s most critical river.
Join MCWC April 2 and 4 for the 2020 Wild and Scenic Film Fest screening at the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue and Rifle’s Ute Theater. Eleven captivating films will inspire your next stewardship adventure. Paddler/journalist and film producer Zak Podmore will share stories and images for his book, “Confluence: Navigating the Personal & Political on Rivers of the New West.” Doors at 6 p.m., films from 7-9 p.m.
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In a fraction of a second I went from a full sprint to skidding across the ground — pea-sized gravel gashing my knees and elbows, turning them into strawberry crisp.