Whether you are a part-time resident, seasonal tourist or a lifetime local, we can all agree on one thing. The Vail Valley is the home of a truly amazing fishery, the Eagle River and its tributaries. Among other attributes, our watershed is healthy, beautiful and wild, much like the natural environment it is surrounded by. But with urbanization and increases in population density, tourism traffic and commercial development, our local waters need our attention and help. That is why non-profits like the Eagle River Watershed Council are so important. Their goal is to protect, preserve and restore our watershed through education, research and project implementation. And since their inception, they have done just that.
Here at Vail Valley Anglers, we know our local waters must be respected and cherished. For more than 7 years, VVA has been a major supporter and partner with the Eagle River Watershed Council. We participated in the River Guide Education Program, sponsor the Eagle River Cleanup event and coordinate the Fly Fishing Film Tour (which ERWC has been the main beneficiary for the past 3 years). We understand that the health of our rivers and streams is directly connected to our passion for fly fishing. But more importantly, we know that our watershed is one of the major pillars of our community. And its preservation is paramount.
Last month, I had the opportunity to interview ERWC’s executive director, Holly Loff. Some questions were asked. Answers were given. And I think all you anglers out there will not only appreciate everything ERWC does for our fishery but also benefit from knowing more about their organization. You may even be inspired to help them out by volunteering and/or donating.
Seth: Your website states that the ERWC believes ‘our rivers and streams are the lifeblood of our valley.’ I think that’s an excellent analogy. Can you tell me a little more about what that means?
Holly: When we say that ‘our rivers and streams are the lifeblood of our valley,’ we are referring to the fact that our economy is dependent upon the rivers and streams. Tourists come here to ski and the man-made snow is created using water from our streams. They also come to fish, raft, kayak, tube, SUP and ride their bikes along our streams. Our residents moved here and stayed here, at least in part, because of these recreational opportunities. Additionally, our drinking water comes from our rivers and streams. And our local agriculture is dependent upon them as well. If our rivers and streams suffer, so will our health and economy.
Seth: In terms of community involvement, what are a couple of your biggest events?
Holly: We have the Wild & Scenic Film Festival every year in April. At this event, folks can come and watch the selected films on conservation, adventure and advocacy. Also in April, we have the Community Pride Highway Cleanup (the 2020 event will be the 20th annual). This event involves 700-1000 people in clearing trash from about 140 miles of Eagle County highways. Similarly, we hold the Eagle River Cleanup in September (the 25th annual is this year) which gets 300-400 volunteers. Together with event staff, the volunteers work to pick up and clear out trash from 68 miles of Eagle County streams and rivers.
Both cleanups are followed by their respective Thank You BBQs where the volunteers get free food, beer, live music. They are also entered to win great prizes in a free drawing. These two cleanups remove about 35,000 lbs of trash from the valley every year before it can pollute our local waterways.
Seth: When not directly participating in events and programs orchestrated by ERWC, how can anglers help positively impact our local waters on a day to day basis?
Holly: By educating themselves on the threats to our watershed (ex. stormwater runoff) and concerns (ex. climate change) and how they can minimize their impacts. And then they should share that with their fellow anglers, friends and neighbors. A good way to stay in tune with these threats and concerns is to register for our free newsletter at erwc.org. And perhaps it goes without saying, but we are a donor and member supported organization. So support from the community is critical to our ability to keep monitoring water quality, restoring impacted streams, advocating for healthy rivers and educating the community.
Seth: One of the ERWC’s values is ‘an understanding that all of our actions in the watershed are interrelated. Can you give me an example of how anglers fit into that interconnectedness?
Holly: A great example is by being mindful of your lawn care practices. If you are concerned about your fishery’s health, but then are over-fertilizing and/or over-watering your lawn, you are having a direct impact on that fishery. Obviously by overwatering you are contributing to concerns for decreased streamflows. Even if you don’t live on the river, excess fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides end up in your street’s gutters and travel to the nearest storm drain. There is no treatment of this water. It dumps directly into the nearest stream with whatever pollution it has picked up along the way. A pesticide made to kill insects in your yard will kill the bugs in the stream too, impacting a major food source for fish. Fertilizers that end up in the stream cause algae to grow, which sucks up oxygen in the water that the fish need.
Seth: How can our readers and community members get involved with ERWC’s programs and events?
Holly: Join us at a stream restoration volunteer event (we have several this summer). Or you can participate in a river or highway cleanup. Another great option is to attend a Watershed Wednesday event. And the best way to stay in the know on upcoming events is to visit our website and sign up to receive our free newsletter.
Seth: When you’re not working to protect and restore our streams, do you get a chance to have some fun on the water? More specifically, do you fly fish?
Holly: Well, my son and husband are avid anglers. But I still consider myself to be a beginner flyfisher. Our family has a 16’ raft that we take it out on the Eagle when flows allow for that. Otherwise, we spend a lot of time on the Upper C. Usually, I like to row the raft while others fish. When I do go out fishing, I typically wade. Although I never catch much, I just love the peacefulness of being out there with my feet in the water. My son is a really good and patient teacher. So it’s a nice way to spend time together, too. When he is old enough to have a job, he wants to be a fly fishing guide.
Beyond rafting and fishing, my son and daughter both love to tube the Eagle River in the late summer. And I like to tag along, especially on hot days. We also live on the Eagle, so we enjoy watching all of the wildlife and seeing how the river transforms season to season.
Help ERWC Out
If you love our local fishery and want to help support its restoration and preservation, check out Eagle River Watershed Council’s website. There you will find numerous options for volunteering and supporting their cause. From participating in their Community Pride Highway Cleanup or Eagle River Cleanup events to attending a Watershed Wednesday gathering, ERWC will help you find a volunteering option that’s right for you. By supporting ERWC and their efforts, you become a sponsor of our rivers and streams. And as anglers, that is the best way to give back to a lifestyle and passion that has given us so much.
Keep ’em wet, handle them sparingly and always appreciate where you are.
Seth Kulas, Vail Valley Anglers’ Content Contributor, @sticks2snow