Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Fire and flood damage, coupled with overuse during the coronavirus pandemic scarred a popular recreation site in the Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger District.
So, the Upper Pecos Watershed Association through Keystone Restoration Ecology will begin work Monday on a 2.5-mile stretch of Dalton Creek along Forest Road 123 northwest of its intersection with N.M. 63 near Pecos.
“It’s close to the town of Pecos, and it’s the first place people went when they had a chance to get out last year,” said Steve Vrooman, Keystone owner.
The work, which is expected to be completed by the end of November, will cost about $170,000, he said, and will be paid for through the Environmental Protection Agency’s non-point source pollution grant program, and administered by the Surface Water Quality Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department.
Although the area will remain open throughout the duration of the work, Vrooman said officials are encouraging campers and hunters to seek alternative sites.
“During the work, we’re asking folks to camp elsewhere,” he said. “It is hunting season, but we’ll have heavy machinery and it will be a hard hat area. We want to rest Dalton Creek for a while and give the vegetation a chance to restore. The area got a lot of impact from COVID because it’s so close to town. The next camping site is about five to eight miles north.”
One of the main areas of concern is a former beaver complex at the upper end of the creek, Vrooman said. Although the beavers are no longer in residence, the dam complex created a significant wetlands.
But, in 2013, the area saw 11 inches of rain overnight, which turned into a raging flood that carved a channel through the wetlands.
“That dropped the water table and drained the pond,” Vrooman said. “At this point, it made it hard for the beavers to come back. So, we’re going to restore this wetland by plugging that gully. We’re going to move camping a little farther away, expand the wetland and return the creek to its former channel.”
That flood also created steep, cut banks on the creek channel that slough dirt into the water, he said.
Stabilizing those banks helps prevent dirt from muddying the waters.
Plans also call for “creating pools and riffles to create more habitat for fish and raise the water table so the water has a longer residence time on the landscape,” Vrooman said. “One of the things to note, when the creek has access to the flood plain, water is stored in the flood plain, and that’s what feeds the cottonwoods and willows. It’s important that a creek has connection to its flood plain.”
Some of the work will be done in conjunction with the Pecos Youth Conservation Corps to plant willows and cottonwood trees, while cutting out the high-fire-danger junipers from the flood plain, he said.
Earthen berms, along with rock and log structures, will be installed to anchor the restored stream channel and prevent future erosion, while the project also includes measures to improve user-created campsites and reduce runoff issues that have damaged the flood plain and degraded water quality.
“What we are doing will alleviate the impacts from camping along the creek,” Vrooman said. “There will be some modification to dispersed camping sites that are established to make them a little more removed from the creek.”