A couple of wily, old beavers have taken out swaths of cottonwood trees in Confluence Park. These tough veterans have managed to avoid the live traps set out by City of Delta parks crews.
But at Confluence Park, the term "busy as a beaver" isn't confined to the critters. Along the trail, an equally industrious parks crew is removing invasive tamarisk and Russian olive trees.
Parks manager Tony Bohling says those species have been deemed noxious and detrimental to native species. Because they use an amazing amount of water, they're being removed all over the state of Colorado.
The ultimate goal is to restore the red rock trail to its original shape and openness. Parks crews have worked on the encroaching underbrush off and on, but with staff cutbacks it's been hard to keep up. With the 25th anniversary of Confluence Park coming up this summer, Bohling felt it was time for a more concentrated approach -- beginning with all the growth within 15 feet of the trail.
Safety was one concern, Bohling said. The thick underbrush has provided cover for wildlife and transient "camps," and some parts of the trail were almost too secluded.
"Two months ago you could not see the Gunnison River through any of this stretch," Bohling said, as he led a tour from the Gunnison River boat ramp west toward the river's confluence with the Uncompahgre River. Where the trail was once a narrow lane through the towering cottonwoods, the Gunnison River is now fully visible.
"That's just too pretty a river to keep it covered up," Bohling said.
In the distance, your eyes can follow the meandering path to the swinging bridge across the Uncompahgre. Turning south, the Uncompahgre flows in full view alongside the trail.
Dead and fallen cottonwoods are also being cleaned up. The healthy cottonwoods are getting a protective wrap of chicken wire. Stumps are being cut to the ground.
"Removing this undergrowth will allow the cottonwood trees to flourish again," Bohling commented on Facebook. "Their diminished health is related almost exclusively to the tamarisk. We want cottonwood trees and willow bushes to regain their foothold."
The large crew is using brush hogs, chainsaws, a front end loader and a wood chipper to do the heavy work.
"We're trying to do as much as we can before flood season, because we're probably going to get some water on the trails," Bohling said. He also wants to finish up the bulk of the work before his crew gets busy mowing lawns, controlling weeds and prepping ball fields. Two Delta Correctional Center inmates help out with the parks and cemetery.
At the lake, the handicap fishing accessible area is being rebuilt. Bohling said the concrete retaining walls are in place. The next step is to fill the gaps with large boulders, which the parks crew is transporting from the golf course. As soon as the boulders are in place, the water level in the lake can be brought back up. "We'll hopefully begin refilling the lake before the end of March," Bohling said. He says the transformation over the next couple of weeks will be dramatic.
Bohling is also hoping to lay some new red rock on the trail around the lake. Five outdoor fitness stations have been ordered, and should be installed in April or May.
All the improvements should be finished by July 2, when the 25th anniversary of the park will be celebrated. Stay tuned for details on the events being planned throughout the park.
"The parks staff is very excited to rejuvenate Confluence Park," Bohling said.