North Fork Dam Removal Reconnects Big Thompson

Dams were built to serve a purpose, but they also prevent fish below the dam from reaching spawning habitat upstream. For example, removal of the Elwah Dam on the Olympic Peninsula in 2011 opened the door to salmon who have since returned to spawn in the river. But did you know we have our own dam removal project right here on the Big Thompson?


The dam located just above Drake on the North Fork of the Big T once diverted water into a State of Colorado fish hatchery, but the state decommissioned the hatchery in 1976. Since then, the dam has blocked access by trout in the main stem of the Big Thompson to spawning habitat in the upper North Fork. Now—thanks in part of an Embrace-A-Stream grant from Trout Unlimited—a partnership among Alpine Anglers, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, and private landowners has removed the dam and reconnected the Big Thompson with its North Fork headwaters.

View the photos.


Youth Fly-Fishing Programs

The dam removal project on the North Fork also created an opportunity for Alpine Anglers to stage another youth conservation and fly-fishing event. In May, 2015, 150 school children descended on the fishing pond and hiking trails of Opal Ranch where the dam was located. Their mission was to learn about—and play a role in restoring—the environment. The mission of a dozen volunteers from Alpine Anglers and Kirk's Fly Shop was to help them catch a few fish.


The children were seventh graders from Brentwood Middle School in Greeley, and the event was part of an environmental education program staged by the school. The native willows they planted will be used to re-establish vegetation and control erosion after removal of the abandoned diversion dam. Just as important, students spent a day fishing and hiking in the Colorado mountains, and many of them got to reel in a wiggling rainbow trout.


Flood Recovery Efforts       

Since the 2013 floods in Colorado, the Alpine Anglers Chapter of Trout Unlimited has worked to keep the community engaged in recovery projects by hosting speakers and participating in volunteer efforts.

In 2014 and 2015, representatives from Fly Water, a consultant on the Big Thompson River Coalition, Colorado Department of Transportation, the supervising agency for road repairs along affected watersheds, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the management agency for fisheries population in the Big Thompson River have spoken to the chapter and other community members. These speakers provided insight into their involvement in the restoration efforts and requested feedback from community members on their work and future project plans.

We have also been involved in trainings to help mobilize volunteers for a USDA Forest Service effort to assess and record stream conditions after the flood. So far, members of the Alpine Anglers Chapter have attended trainings to learn the skills required to obtain data related to stream flow, depth, width, and structure. Alpine Anglers continues to look for more ways to support ongoing flood recovery efforts, specifically related to the conservation of fisheries surrounding Estes Park. 


Annual River Clean Ups

Every year in the spring the town of Estes Park organizes a Spring Clean Up event for volunteers from the community to get together and pick up litter from the public areas surrounding Lake Estes and the River Walk Trail. The Alpine Anglers Chapter of Trout Unlimited extends the reach of the Spring Clean Up by taking responsibility for cleaning up the Big Thompson River corridor from Lake Estes down to Drake.

This area is frequented by fisherman and follows U.S. Highway 34, one of the main routes to Estes Park from the Front Range. Because of this traffic, the area collects a lot of litter and debris both from the roadway and recreational access to the water. In addition, the recent flood event in 2013 deposited extensive debris in the Big Thompson River. Due to these two factors, there continues to be much work to be done to clean-up the river and preserve the fishery as healthy habitat for trout and productive water for anglers. Alpine Anglers will continue to contribute manpower to river clean up efforts during the Annual Spring Clean Up in Estes Park, and we plan to organize additional volunteer events in the fall to further clean up the Big Thompson river corridor.


USFWS Volunteer Projects

Over the last four decades the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has conducted fish and aquatic habitat monitoring and restoration of cutthroat trout within Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). The focus of the RMNP fisheries program is native cutthroat trout; the greenback cutthroat trout which is a Federally threatened sub-species and the Colorado River cutthroat trout, a rare sub-species. The primary work of the FWS within RMNP is the restoration and monitoring of these sub-species in support of the Greenback Cutthroat Trout Recovery Plan and the Colorado River Cutthroat Trout Conservation Agreement. Monitoring of fish is conducted to determine population sizes, age structure, presence of disease, presence of contaminants and general health of populations and can be done by net, electrofishing or hook-and-line.


These monitoring projects can be one day roadside projects which take a couple of hours to week long off-trail backpacking trips to the remotest parts of RMNP. It takes several people to accomplish these projects and volunteers play an essential part getting them completed. Volunteers assist with deploying and retrieving sampling gear, netting fish during electrofishing surveys, catching fish by hook-and-line, weighing and taking length measurements of fish, recording data, taking habitat measurements, taking stream flow measurements and conducting time of travel measurements. Members of Alpine Anglers (AA) have contributed thousands of hours to the RMNP fisheries program to complete fish and habitat monitoring over the last three decades. In addition AA members have spent additional time and effort in attracting other volunteers, administering the RMNP/FWS fisheries volunteer program and educating the public on native cutthroat trout and other fisheries related issues.

See what we do.