Fifty years of large-scale coal mining in Coal Basin, a watershed characterized by naturally
steep, unstable and eroding slopes, has resulted in a radically altered landscape. Erosion from
partially-reclaimed mining areas, as well as sedimentation from naturally-occurring soil erosion
and debris flows, are degrading water quality and stream habitat in Coal Basin and contributing
to sedimentation issues in the Crystal River. Additionally, the four-mile Coal Creek Road
corridor (between Coal Basin and Hwy 133) frequently impinges upon extremely active
tributaries to Coal Creek, causing stream bank instability and resultant sedimentation that also
impacts the Crystal River. Although the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining & Safety
(CDRMS) was able to complete a series of restoration projects in Coal Basin from 1994-2002,
nearly 650 acres of disturbed area directly connected to the Coal Creek stream system remains.
Overview of the Workshop
The Coal Basin & Crystal River Area Restoration Workshop (Workshop) was organized by
Roaring Fork Conservancy (RFC) in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The
Workshop was held over a two-day period in the Town of Redstone, Colorado, which is located
on the Crystal River and minutes away from Coal Basin. The Workshop gathered nearly fifty
resource experts and stakeholders together to develop a strategy for continuing the critical
restoration work conducted by CDRMS in Coal Basin, and to discuss opportunities for improving
the downstream confluence area where Coal Creek enters the Crystal River (the Coal
Creek/Crystal River Confluence Area).
The Workshop brought hydrologists, soils scientists, geomorphologists, fish biologists, water
quality analysts, plant ecologists and other technical experts together with highway engineers,
mining reclamation experts, recreational planners, and other key stakeholders from multiple
federal, state and local government entities, as well as local nonprofits and private interests.
During a series of intensive work sessions and site visits, participants had the opportunity to
engage in an open discussion about the remaining problems in Coal Basin, and the significant
challenges associated with continuing the CDRMS restoration efforts. Workshop participants
also had the chance to analyze the historic and current geomorphology of the Coal
Creek/Crystal River Confluence Area, and to suggest opportunities to restore the function of the
floodplain and enhance riparian and instream habitat in the area.
Priorities and Next Steps
Participants agreed that additional information is urgently needed to fully understand and
prioritize challenges and solutions in Coal Basin. At the same time, they recognized that there
was an immediate need to make some basic decisions, in order to coordinate with projects
already underway or planned for the Coal Creek/Crystal River Confluence Area.
Near-term (1-2 year) projects and programs recommended by Workshop participants include:
- Conduct a relatively inexpensive, high-level (“Level I”) GIS and limited field assessment
of the Crystal River Watershed to obtain a better understanding of the dynamic natural
and human-induced geomorphic processes in the Crystal River Watershed and the
specific contribution of Coal Basin (especially above the Coal Creek confluence with
Dutch Creek). Use this Level I assessment to guide future near-term projects in Coal
Basin, Coal Creek canyon and the Coal Creek/Crystal River Confluence Area. Based on
the results of the Level I assessment, conduct a more detailed resource assessment
(“Level II” – “Level III”) for Coal Basin and/or other areas of concern, outlining specific
- Establish a priority list of water quality parameters and sites for baseline water quality
monitoring and detection of future changes. Conduct water quality sampling at regular
and frequent intervals to facilitate building correlations and detecting trends. Measure
stream flow and storm events (precipitation) and correlate concentrations of water
quality parameters with stream discharge and magnitude of storms.
- Conduct regular macroinvertebrate sampling at previous sampling sites to develop a
more robust data set for Coal Basin and the Crystal River. Correlate with various stages
in the stream hydrograph.
- Collect in-channel sediment data (e.g., grain size, mineral content) at the same time as
water quality sampling and macroinvertebrate sampling are being conducted.
- Support current USFS initiatives to rehabilitate sediment-producing mining-related
disturbed areas with selected native plants in Coal Basin. Evaluate the efficacy of using
biochar, or other soil-enhancing amendments, and selected native plant species as part
of this restoration initiative.
- Modify the Coal Creek Bridge to accommodate sediment loads without excessive
aggradation and to provide safe public access over/under Hwy 133 between Elk Park
and the coke ovens.
- Build a visitor/discovery center and restore wetlands near Elk Park as part of Pitkin
County Open Space & Trail’s (OS&T) Elk Park project. Coordinate with OS&T during the
Design Phase of this project to ensure Elk Park retains sufficient flexibility to
accommodate future restoration initiatives in the Coal Creek/Crystal River Confluence
- Conduct ongoing tours of Coal Basin and the Crystal River watershed to inform the
general public about their history and environmental issues.
- Develop and distribute multimedia presentations and educational materials on the Coal
Basin & Crystal River Area Restoration Project, including via smart phone apps, and
- Develop and publish local and national newspaper and magazine articles on the
- Develop and implement a communications/PR plan for the Coal Basin & Crystal River
Area Restoration Project.
- Develop a funding strategy for the Coal Basin & Crystal River Area Restoration Project.
Coordinate and prepare appropriate grant applications.
Longer-term initiatives (2-10+ years) include the following:
- Develop Master Plans for Coal Basin and the Coal Creek/Crystal River Confluence Area
to prioritize and guide future restoration activities and to determine metrics to monitor
and evaluate project success. Specifically address recontouring the vertical slope in the
Coal Creek/Crystal River Confluence Area as part of this planning effort.
- Expand upon USFS initiatives to rehabilitate sediment-producing mining-related
disturbed areas with native plant communities in Coal Basin, targeting both public and
- Undertake channel improvements in “hot spots” along Coal Creek adjacent to Coal
Creek Road from the confluence of Dutch Creek and Coal Creek down to the Coal
Creek/Crystal River Confluence Area in order to reestablish natural geomorphic and
ecological processes and enhance riparian and instream habitat.
- Conduct an economic study of the value of the Crystal River to the local economy and
the impact of Coal Creek on that value.
- Turn Coal Basin into a restoration research and development center – a living laboratory
for assessment of restoration techniques, materials and designs that can be used
- Develop a restoration-based economy to increase job opportunities in the Crystal River
Valley and the greater Roaring Fork watershed.
RFC was selected to serve as the coordinator for the Coal Basin & Crystal River Area Restoration Project. A Working Group of technical experts and stakeholders will assist RFC with planning, funding and implementing the restoration effort. Smaller Technical Groups will form out of the
Working Group to support individual projects. A Focus Group comprised of members of the general public and stakeholders will be formed for vetting specific projects and programs as they are being developed.