Preserve Unique Magnolia
March 1997 Newsletter
Volume 3 Issue 1


Cover Story: Trail Uses and Abuses

Updates: Gross Reservoir and 68J

South Boulder Creek Drainage Impacts

Magnolia Environmental Preservation Plan


Unhappy Trails ?  

The wild areas that surround our homes and the trails that access them are just one of the things that many of us enjoy about living on Magnolia Road. Trails get us out into these areas to observe wildlife, provide exercise and allow us to experience solitude and outdoor enjoyment.

The trails we enjoy need protection.

Due to population growth and new recreational trends, trail use is increasing on Magnolia Road. Not only are levels of use increasing, but types of use are changing as well. As mountain bikes and off-road vehicles become more widespread, new trails are pushing into previously undisturbed habitat. Like many other things affected by population growth–traffic, air quality, housing development–increased trail use brings increased problems too.

Biologists have known for a long time that roads affect wildlife habitat. Roads invite human disturbance, allow weed invasion, and introduce new types of predators to previously less accessible areas. Elk have been found to avoid areas where road densities are high and studies show that bull elk deaths are higher in backcountry areas with a lot of access.

Trails affect wildlife and habitat in similar ways. Like roads, trails affect the abundance and reproductive success of some species, while allowing the introduction of predators and new types of weeds (often noxious species) into previously undisturbed habitat.

A study of trails in Boulder City Open Space found that habitat-specialized bird species, such as solitary vireos and grasshopper sparrows, avoid trails, while generalist bird species, such as crows and robins, congregate along trails. The study also found that song birds who build nests near trails have a greater chance of reproductive failure due to predation of blue jays, magpies and other nest predators.

Bird species that avoid trails due to their sensitivity towards humans can become crowded into smaller and smaller chunks of already diminishing habitat as trails proliferate.

If these habitat chunks are in less suitable habitat, (for example, if species are displaced away from riparian areas to drier areas) some species may suffer population declines.

In addition to the invisible edge effects, there are the more easily observable on-site impacts of trails, plant trampling, soil erosion and soil compaction are but a few. Even these seemingly invisible effects are significant; for example, when trampling causes changes in plant composition which in turn affects insects needed for pollination by some plants.

All types of trail use, whether hiking, horse riding or mountain bicycling, affect wildlife. However some uses spread human influence over greater distances than others. While a hiker might need six miles of trail for a day trip, a mountain biker or motorcyclist might need thirty to eighty miles of trail for the same experience.

Biologists concerned with trail effects have formulated guidelines for bio-logically-sound trail design:

Develop trails along existing corridors (roads and existing trails) rather than pioneer trails into undisturbed habitat.

Concentrate visitor use on existing trails rather than allow trail proliferation into unfragmented habitat.

Avoid riparian areas and other sensitive habitat.

Educate trail users on how to mitigate impacts by staying on trail and leashing dogs, and staying off wet, muddy trails.

Trail planning in the Magnolia area will be picking up steam in the next two years as the Forest Service, Boulder County, and the Denver Water Board’s Gross Reservoir planning efforts get underway. The Boulder Ranger District of the Forest Service will embark on its Travel Management Plan, the County on its Reynolds Ranch Open Space planning, and Gross Reservoir planning is already underway.

As we participate in these efforts, we will need to balance the still-wild qualities of the Magnolia area with the pressures of an expanding population: we will need to weigh human recreational needs with the long-term survival of many of the species which inhabit the Magnolia area.


About the Author
Roz McClellan, PUMA member, has been active in environmental issues in Boulder County since 1981 and is currently the Director of the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, an organization working to protect biodiversity and prevent habitat fragmentation by mapping and protecting remaining wilderness areas.



Some decisions regarding the status of County Road 68 J have been made.

The current, agreed upon plan is to install gates and signage. Gates will be placed on both the Magnolia- and Flagstaff-side access points. For now, gates will be locked open. The County Commissioners idea is that the presence of gates, even if open, will suggest that legal access to the area is limited. The hope is that this will psychologically dissuade some users.

Signage indicating appropriate use and prohibiting trespassing and abuse of prohibited areas will also be posted. In addition, the Forest Service will berm or boulder all spur roads. Hopefully this will prevent the creation of new, damaging spur roads and trails, as well as confine vehicles to designated areas.

PUMA will begin a monitoring program this spring and summer. All members and visitors are encouraged to keep records of infractions of trespass, entry into closed areas, and abusive or inappropriate uses. If you document any infractions and would like to submit your records to PUMA, we will combine all information and submit it to the Boulder County Commissioners at the end of the summer.

 Gross Reservoir Re-licensing

As you may recall from the last newsletter, Denver Water Board (DWB) is currently negotiating the re-licensing of Gross Reservoir with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Part of the re-licensing process requires DWB to consider recreational use of the reservoir and to decide what, if any, changes should be made to policies of use when the new license goes into effect in 1999. Increased recreational use and increased access is a possibility.

By law, DWB is required to solicit community and interested agencies' input on issues related to their intended/proposed use. As it stands now, DWB is planning to build a hydro-electric facility in the existing building near the dam. Because little construction and minimal change to the existing area is planned (slightly larger power lines, no new roads, and a 10-foot higher roof on the existing structure), little concern has been raised over this part of DWB's plans. In contrast, quite a bit of concern emerged over the possibility of increased recreational use of the reservoir and vicinity.

Over the last three months, residents and agency representatives have met with DWB to express their thoughts and point out issues related to any possible increase or change in recreational use of the reservoir. Concerns for what impacts any increase or change in recreational use around the reservoir will have on wildlife, habitat, ecosystems, and the safety of both visitors and residents are shared by Boulder Parks and Rec., the US Forest Service and residents on all sides of the reservoir.

The purpose of the work sessions has been to clearly identify issues and to propose studies and research needed from appropriate consultants in order to make an informed and appropriate decision. The Draft Scoping Document recently submitted by DWB to FERC is the product of these work sessions and should encapsulate all of the concerns and issues identified in them. In theory, this document will serve as the foundation for all upcoming research and studies relating to Gross’s re-licensing; its importance can not be underestimated. The Scoping Document is in the "draft" stage now and the window for public comment before it is accepted as a "final" document is less than a week.

PUMA members have participated in all work sessions and plan to review and provide comment on the final draft. We will continue to keep the community informed of study and survey results as they are made available to us.



{{{ Magnolia Environmental Preservation Plan {{{

PUMA has been moving forward with its plan to conduct a resource inventory and to develop a long-term management plan for the Magnolia Road area.

A survey conducted over the last few months has demonstrated overwhelming support from Magnolia-area residents and landowners. Community response indicated a desire for a unified vision of Magnolia’s future and a comprehensive plan for its preservation and management is not shared by PUMA alone.

Over the years, many people have made contributions of time, money, or both. Now, as PUMA's efforts grow and expand, so do PUMA's needs. If time equals money, PUMA has accomplished a lot using the non-green version. Recently, residents and supporters have come forward to help with the "green" support for PUMA's new work.

From local contributions and from grants, PUMA hopes to raise nearly $20,000 to study, quantify, and clarify those elements that contribute to the uniqueness of our area. We have applied for and are hoping to receive funding from Great Outdoors Colorado, and will continue to pursue all avenues of support that are open to us. Information on all fundraising success will be detailed in mailings to be distributed soon.

We would like to give special thanks to all those who have already made contributions.

We hope that you will continue to pledge your support in any way that you can.
If you would like more information on MEPP, please contact Bay Roberts at 447-8836.


South Boulder Creek: Diversions and Impacts

    Water, water everywhere
       Water,water nowhere.

After weeks of participating in discussions with the Denver Water Board (DWB) concerning the re-licensing of Gross Reservoir, several active PUMA members accompanied Bob Crifasi, City of Boulder Water Resource Specialist, on a field trip to South Boulder Creek. The purpose of the trip was to understand what happens to the water below the reservoir. Gross Reservoir and South Boulder Creek are part of the Denver water system, supplying about 20 percent its water.

What We Saw
On Friday, February 14th, four PUMA members stood on a small concrete weir near Eldorado Springs and looked down into South Boulder Creek. There was no water. None. Even the rocks were dry. Crifasi explained, "Upstream from this dry river bed, all the water that flows down from Gross Reservoir is shunted off into Community Ditch, a water supply for the cities of Louisville and Lafayette; their use doesn't entirely dry up the stream, water comes back in from other sources just downstream from where we are now."

Indeed, there was water just a short distance downstream entering the dry river. The clear water for which Eldorado Springs is famous, flowed directly into the riverbed. Although this flow amounted to perhaps only 10 to 20 percent of the water supply diverted into Community Ditch, South Boulder Creek was no longer a desert.

Crifasi went on to explain, "Water supply and water laws are complex issues and there are a web of uses of South Boulder Creek by the people and biological communities this water supports."

What We Learned
Denver's water supply is partially provided by a system of collection channels, pipes, reservoirs, and tunnels that run through Boulder County and adjacent to the Magnolia area. Gross Reservoir collects water from South Boulder Creek. Moffat tunnel adds west slope water to the creek.

Six miles below Gross Dam, Denver's water is diverted from the Creek through pipes and ditches for Denver's industrial, agricultural, and residential users. These diversions affect the water flow in South Boulder Creek. Human modifications have affected all its uses, from the alpine tundra to the kitchen table.

Our small group followed this pipeline into Boulder County Open Space south of Eldorado Springs. Here, Crifasi introduced us to one of the many difficulties of ecosystem management in a land where much of the Front Range has been modified by the works of man.

In the bottom of a deep valley, Crifasi pointed to where, "the largest population of a very sensitive species of amphibians lives. These frogs may seem unimportant, but they are indicators of healthy wetlands. Changes to the Front Range ecosystem over the last 100 years have driven many small populations to the brink of extinction. In this valley, a small leak from Denver's supply pipe has become vitally important to the survival of this now-rare species."

Further downstream, the "Hooded Ladies Tresses," spiranthes, are a rare orchid in a similar situation; they grow only in wetlands that are now artificially maintained by a series of ditches. Crifasi told us that major changes to the water-supply systems around Boulder County could sacrifice this species forever.

Other complex problems created by the numerous claims to the water in South Boulder Creek include seepage and diversion. Water flowing in a ditch, unlike water in a pipe, seeps into the ground. Some of this seepage gradually flows back into South Boulder Creek and into the wells of nearby residents. At each diversion, water flows off into the ditch, decreasing the flow in the Creek. While some water seeps back into the creek, sections may vary from almost totally dry to near-normal flows depending on how much water is being diverted.

The web of life supported by the Creek has changed so dramatically that it only distantly resembles that of pre-European settlement of the area.

What Are the Solutions?
Can this complex interrelationship be used to provide a healthy water supply to the population of people, plants, and animals now dependent on it? A concrete structure Crifasi showed us is a small step in that direction.

The old style weir, used to divert water into an irrigation ditch, is like a small, vertical dam. With this style weir, Creek water is backed up just enough to force it to ditch level, some water then flows down the ditch and some continues down the Creek to other users. Unfortunately, this vertical weir presents an impassable wall to fish, minnows, and other creatures in the Creek. This divides the Creek into many small, independent segments, resulting in a loss of biological diversity.

A new weir designed by the City of Boulder and interested volunteers (a Parabolic Weir) sends the rightful share of water into the ditch, but offers easier passage to many aquatic creatures. Although Crifasi said the design needs refinement, it is a great improvement over the old style.

The problem that remains is convincing the farmers, ranchers, municipalities, and other share-holders to spend some money to improve the health of the whole river ecosystem.

During the re-licensing process for Gross Reservoir, Denver will be required to study the impacts of their operation on the South Boulder Creek. Denver has agreed to perform many studies along the river corridor; however, when PUMA members, Crifasi, the City of Boulder, and others requested that Denver Water extend their studies to include the sections below Community Ditch, DWB refused, claiming they had no legal responsibility.

It is our belief, especially after taking this special tour along the lower Creek corridor, that impacts to the natural river system do not end at legal boundaries. Water, like air, flows and mixes with many elements, changing its content and affecting the many lives that depend on it.

Denver is not alone in its impacts.

All of the people, ditch companies, municipalities, and residents along the Creek are impacted, and each in turn affect others. This is probably the last time for the next 50 years that DWB is required to do a thorough study of this river and will be the best opportunity to understand how to protect the water and ecosystem that so many depend on.

If you would like to ask Denver to extend their study boundaries, please write to:

 Ms.Leslie Parker, Denver Water Board
Director of Community Outreach
1600 West 12th Avenue
Denver, Colorado 80254
Phone: 303/628-6553
Fax: 303/628-6199

 Send a copy to:
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Ms. Dianne Rodman
Office of Hydropower Licensing
Washington, D.C.Phone: 202-219-2830

 Thank you for your support. We will continue to keep you informed.

PUMA Contributors since March ‘96:

Rob Ellis
James B. & Nurit Wolf
Cherie Long
Bay Roberts
Extraordinary Audio
Vivian Long & David Boswell
Karen Ripley & Tom Dugan
Flo Scohy
Newell Brown
Paula Hendricks & Norman Lederman
Ann Skartvedt & Mark Burget
Rick Cobb & Lisa Coash
Deborah Sinay
Howard Kaushansky
Catherine & Robert Eppinger
William & Elizabeth Kellogg
Brent Warren
Dorene & Kenneth Leonard
Robert & Francis Bauer
Ray Browning
Lee & Kathryn Teuber
Carly Zug & Steve Szymanski
Dan Metzger & Jennifer Stewart
James & Todd Cowart
Jimmy Keith
Emily & Robert Weigel
Anita Fizer
Kathleen Ahern
Richard & Julie Martin
Beaver Creek Tack Shop
Naomi Kleinfeld
Martha Griffin
Yvonne Short
Don & Marianne Stilson
Angela Camarillo & Robert Remington
Jeff Rosler & Trudy Leonhard
Sue & Sal Mazzone