Boulder County Parks & Open Space is leading a planning process to shape the land management and public use of the East Boulder Creek (EBC) site. This 1,377-acre property, at the confluence of Boulder and Coal Creeks, contains five miles of streams, 12 ponds, and four agricultural leases. It lies in the Boulder Valley between Longmont and Erie. This is an important place to the community, and I hope you’ll want to participate in the process. To get you familiar with the area and interested in EBC, let me tell you about some of my experiences on the site.
The Department’s First Plan
After the first purchase of EBC properties, the department undertook a master planning effort for the area in 1998. As a young resource planner at that time, I was excited by the community’s vision of restored habitats, continued agriculture, and public recreation in an area on the plains that already had ponds and streams. It was the following spring that I got my first chance to do some field work on the land. And, honestly, that first project left me worried that we wouldn’t be able to deliver on the promises we made in that 1998 plan.
I had volunteered to establish some vegetative cover on the north side of Boulder Creek, where stream flows were collapsing the bank between the channel and some gravel mine ponds. I installed several hundred feet of erosion control mat over a dry and dusty slope that I had previously seeded with native grasses. The work was challenging—pounding in stakes to hold the mat— I was exposed on a treeless stretch of creek getting sunburned and tired. And when I reflected on the task, I felt like I was slapping a large band-aid on just a tiny part of a property that had already been heavily affected by gravel mining and oil and gas operations. In fact, one large tank battery was just 30 feet from Boulder Creek right across the stream from my work. When you looked around the site, it was hard to find any encouraging signs that the landscape was beginning to recover from all these disturbances.
By the end of the project, I seriously wondered if our department be able to follow the plan and make this a place the public would enjoy, where natural values could be restored, wildlife would find suitable habitat, and agricultural operators would prosper.
Fast forward to the present, and the answer is a resounding YES! One early morning last fall, I visited the site. A cool mist rose from a pond, American pelicans and ducks floated by, a bald eagle flew overhead, and a reflection of the snow-covered Indian Peaks danced on the water. This site is making an incredible recovery. It made me realize that these kinds of transformations are only possible with an open space program that has robust community support… along with the life-giving power of 24 growing seasons!
How did this happen? Following the conclusion of the last gravel mining operation in 2004, the department set about reclaiming the southeast portion of the EBC site. With available water, the department created a pond with rich wetlands that has recovered so well it has been designated a critical wildlife habitat in the county.
Then, in 2016, the department completed a massive effort to restore a mile-long stretch of Boulder Creek on the west side of EBC with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This project undid some of the destructive channelizing and straightening of Boulder Creek that had occurred in the past and reconnected the stream with its floodplain to support a much wider riparian and wetland corridor. What would have taken several decades to recover on its own was repaired more quickly and sustainably by a partnership of department staff, government agencies, contractors, and volunteers.
Through this entire timeframe, our tenants have leased parts of the area for grazing and hay production, thereby keeping this area connected to the agricultural community. This property can serve as reminder of the community effort it has taken to restore the site. Additionally, it prompts us to realize there is more restoration work to be done here.
Your Turn to Shape the Future of EBC
Your involvement in the planning process will guide how we create public access to the open space while at the same time protecting the natural and agricultural values that the site already contains. Your input will help us tailor our management priorities so we can create a place where the important history and recent stewardship of many people are acknowledged. Look for updates on our website and social media to participate in the planning of this open space. Join the Movement!