Almost 100 volunteers gathered at East Canyon Creek on Saturday as part of an ongoing watershed restoration effort. The effort was part of Vail Resorts' fourth annual Echo Day and was their first event held in Utah.
Vail partnered with the East Canyon Watershed Committee in coordinating the restoration project. The Swaner EcoCenter was also involved.
Steve Pastorino, Director of Public Relations with Canyons Resort, said volunteers removed 700 feet of barbed wire and fence posts at the Swaner Nature Preserve, which he said was prohibiting the free passage of wildlife. In the East Canyon Creek watershed, over 500 willows were planted as well, which were donated by a farmer near Chalk Creek.
"When you cut a willow, you can cut off a branch, stick it in the water table and it will establish roots and grow," said Jake Powell from the East Canyon Watershed Committee.
Volunteers also created 30 "willow wattles," which are harvested willow branches that are interwoven into long log-shaped bundles that are tied tightly with twine. Pastorino said the willow wattles are embedded into the stream bank, helping to control erosion, creating slower moving water and changing the temperature of the water.
Powell said that another volunteer team conducted tree revetments, in which donated Christmas trees were laid along the stream banks.
"[The tree revetments] served to diffuse the force of the water off of an eroding bank," Powell said. "It helps to narrow the stream and capture sediment."
The East Canyon Creek is currently on the Environmental Protection Agency's 303(d) list of impaired and threatened waters. Powell hopes that efforts like Saturday's will improve the water quality of the creek to the point that it is removed from the 303(d) list.
"On the Swaner [Preserve], there will be a technical stream restoration over the next month that will dovetail into these projects," Powell said. "We'll be working up and down the watershed to try to improve it."
As part of Vail's Echo Day, more than 1,500 Vail employees participated in events held in Park City, Lake Tahoe, Colorado's Summit and Eagle counties, Jackson, Wyoming, and Jamaica. The Vail resorts in Colorado postponed their events by one week, changing this year's focus to assisting communities ravaged by flooding.
"Canyons has had a fairly active Sustainability Task Force until this year. This is [Canyons'] first activity under the Echo umbrella," Pastorino said. "This is the largest scale of anything we've done locally."
The Echo program is the moniker for all of the community work and grants that Vail does.
"Our livelihood depends on incredible, majestic natural landscapes," Pastorino said. "We feel we have every obligation to be committed to all of our terrain whether it's up in the mountain, down in the village or in our community."
Pastorino added that Canyons has been focused the past year on initiatives such as recycling, composting, guest education and installing solar panels on ski patrol huts. During the last three months, they have also composted more than 10 tons of waste and have diverted close to 50 percent of their waste to recycling in the last 18 months.
Canyons is also involved with Summit County in supporting legislation next spring that would create an anti-idling ordinance. Pastorino said the resort has already encouraged guests and transportation companies to not leave their cars idling while on resort property.
"The Echo program is giving us the pulpit to talk about what we do on an ongoing manner," Pastorino said. "The core value of environmental sensitivity is fundamental to the Summit County lifestyle. It's a critical component of [Vail's] core values."
Powell said the East Canyon Watershed Committee is looking to do more work on the watershed in the future, and is optimistic of the partnership that was evidenced on Saturday.
"We try to bring funding to the table to do projects where we don't own land nor do we have hundreds of people as our staff," Powell said. "A partnership like what we saw on Saturday is indicative of what we want to see in the future. These groups like the Canyons are giving back to their community."
Powell encourages any residents who own property on East Canyon Creek and would like to see work done on their section of the stream to visit eastcanyoncreek.org to see how they can get involved.
"If restoration is done on Kimball Creek or any of those smaller tributaries, it improves the water in East Canyon Creek as well," Powell said.
Editor's note: This article has been revised from its original version in order to remove an inaccurate statement about Canyons' community involvement and environmental stewardship under Talisker ownership that was attributed to Steve Pastorino, Canyons' director of public relations.