River restoration near Alamosa benefits fish, birds, and hikers

Courier photo by John Waters As part of restoration efforts along the Rio Grande, these willow trees were planted to provide streambed stabilization and to provide habitat for a variety of birds including the southwestern willow flycatcher.

ALAMOSA — Last fall, the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project (RGHRP) partnered with the City of Alamosa, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to stabilize streambanks, restore riparian areas, and enhance aquatic habitats along the river on Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge.

The (RGHRP), is a non-profit organization founded over 20 years ago with a mission to restore the Rio Grande River and watershed health. The group works to improve the function of the Rio Grande and provide high-quality water throughout the river, support existing agricultural lifestyles, and contribute to groundwater recharge.

In September of last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed detritus along the river and hauled away 24 old cars, 20 household appliances, numerous tires, and tons of concrete.

According to Emma Reesor executive director of RGHRP, the group had previously worked with the city in restoration efforts along the river in the Alamosa Riparian Park. After that successful effort, RGHRP studied the river downstream and began work on the site near the wildlife refuge.

Grants were obtained from state and federal agencies and from the non-profit American Forests.

Cooley and Sons Excavating of Mosca was retained for excavating, channel and bank shaping, and the instillation of rock and habitat structures. The company planted young willow trees along the river.

The restoration efforts also include areas along the river owned by private individuals.

“Additional work has been done further downstream, extending the benefit [of restoration] to the river as a whole. From a restoration perspective, it is really important to look at that big picture. It was great the private landowners were interested and excited to partner with us; it really made the project bigger and more impactful,” according to Reesor.

Both the native Rio Grande chub and Rio Grande sucker will benefit from the restoration efforts said Reesor. The sucker was largely extirpated from its historic range and has since been re-introduced.

The area is open to the public and can be accessed by the Toivo Malm trails maintained by Alamosa Parks and Recreation. The trails are located off South River Road in Alamosa, about a quarter mile from the Alamosa Recycling Center. There are several park benches along the trail where hikers can rest and take in stunning views of the river, the Blanca Massif and the Culebra Range. The trails offer excellent birding opportunities, and, on a hike earlier this week, Alamosa resident Marlys Hersey spotted a great horned owl and a bald eagle.