The Best Way to Get to Know the River? Float it!

 
Many healthy riparian areas were observed and locations were noted along the river.

Many healthy riparian areas were observed and locations were noted along the river.

On July 5, 2017, the Big Thompson River Corridor Master Plan project team took a float trip down the Big Thompson River from the Morey Open Space on the west end to County Road 9E on the east end. So far in this project, we have been able to learn about the river primarily from looking upstream and downstream at road crossings and from traveling the bike and pedestrian trails along the river. While this provides a good overview of some portions of the river, there are many portions of the river, especially on the west and east ends, that are not easily accessed except by going down the river.

Project team members from Wright Water Engineers, Inc. (WWE), THK Associates, Matrix Design Group, and Blue Mountain, LLC floated down the river on the 5th of July. The project team used a variety of water craft including a kayak, two paddle boards, and inner tubes. It took most of the day to cover the 9-mile stretch, and the team stopped for a pizza lunch at Fairgrounds Park to refuel.

All of the project team members were struck by the hidden beauty of the Big Thompson River along many of these reaches. While there is still some work to be done, many portions of the river have recovered well from the September 2013 flood. During the float trip we saw birds including numerous blue heron, owls, and a variety of song birds. We also encountered a number of local residents recreating in the river, especially in the central portion from Centennial Park downstream to Fairgrounds Park.

Example of a "snag" caused by a stressed tree. We had to carefully navigate around these! 

Example of a "snag" caused by a stressed tree. We had to carefully navigate around these! 

Some of the biggest challenges for floating down the Big Thompson were the “snags” and “strainers” caused by fallen trees and debris in the channel. A considerable amount of this debris is left over from the September 2013 flood. While fallen trees and similar types of debris can provide good habitat for fish, they present hazards for people on inner tubes or in boats. Our project team was successful at navigating around these challenges, but the experience gave us a good perspective on what other people on inner tubes might experience.

In order to best understand our project area, we snapped a collection of pictures of conditions along the river and geo-referenced these images to document what we observed. The following is a synopsis of some of the things we saw during our site visit. We are in the works of creating a comprehensive Story Map of our trip to document that summarizes and geolocates a captioned photo log for the corridor restoration project. . The draft can be accessed by following this URL:
BTRCMP Float Trip Story Map

 
 
 

The project team would like to thank the City for helping to coordinate this float trip and the residents along the river for allowing us to get out of the river and portage around hazardous areas including diversion structures. The project team thoroughly enjoyed the day on the river and came away with a new perspective on the valuable resource that this corridor is to the City of Loveland and Larimer County.

 
 
ELLIE