Peanut Lake restoration project underway to prevent breach

Weather coming into play

by Mark Reaman

Heavy equipment started rumbling around Peanut Lake this week for a fall restoration project.

Work has begun by the Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT) to shore up the lake. The Riparian Restoration Project is meant to reduce the risk of a breach of the lake, located just west of Crested Butte below the Lower Loop trail. A natural riparian floodplain buffer between the lake and the Slate River will be created through the $130,000 project.

“We broke ground yesterday morning with an excavator and loader, amidst the wind and rain, after a year of studying and planning with a team of ecologists,” said CBLT stewardship director Danielle Beamer. “Things are going well on the ground—we’ve been able to transplant large, whole mats of willows and vegetation, which will really benefit the regrowth of the wetlands and the river banks. We were running out of time, so we are really grateful that the community stepped up to help us out.”

A team of ecologists had informed the land trust that a breach was likely sometime in the next ten years, but when it would occur was impossible to predict. The lake is there primarily as a result of beaver dams and is actually about three feet above the Slate.

Peanut Lake Restoration Projectphoto by Crested Butte Land Trust
Peanut Lake Restoration Project photo by Crested Butte Land Trust

“There are three main components of this week’s project,” explained Beamer. “First, we’ll remove a manmade gravel berm on the eastern side of the river. This berm has prevented the Slate’s natural migration, and forced it towards Peanut Lake’s eastern bank, so much so that the lake’s bank is seriously eroding. At the same time, we’ll realign a short segment of the Slate River, which will widen the area between the river and Peanut Lake, significantly lessening the likelihood that the river will break through the lake’s fragile bank. This will return the river and lake to a more natural environment. Finally, we’ll plant willows and other wetland plants—some this week, and more early spring, to restore acres of healthy wetlands, and ultimately benefit the wildlife of the wetlands, including the blue heron, beavers and elk.”

The work is expected to take about ten days. “We expect to finish the restoration work by the end of next week at the latest—it’s a little weather-dependent, but the crew is ready and willing to work through the weekend if need be. We’ll also monitor the area closely for the next five years,” said Beamer.

“Preventing a breach of Peanut Lake is one of our main objectives,” continued Beamer. “By increasing the extent of the wetlands between the river and the lake, the wetlands can act as a sponge, absorbing the heavy flows of spring run-off. We’ll do what we can, and hope that the landscape can return to a more natural system that will protect the lake as well.”

The work is expected to create about an additional 2.5 acres of wetlands in the area after volunteers help plant approximately 1,000 willows.

Funding sources include the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Great Outdoors Colorado, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, Tip for the Trust, the Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund, and New Belgium Brewery. CBLT executive director Ann Johnston said the CBLT also received some very generous gifts from community members.

As for any trail reroutes, Johnston said, “We’re working closely with CB Nordic to reroute a portion of the winter Beaver Trail.”

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