The Stories of Vail
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Restore the Gore
Vail is home to a bit of bliss on earth, and you’re standing on it. It’s this pristine path that meanders along Gore Creek. This popular walking and biking path is part of the longer Gore Valley Trail, which extends from Vail Pass to Dowd Junction. Every part of the pathway gives you something to see, whether it’s:
- Beaver dams
- Outdoor art
- Local parks
- Vail Golf Course
- Aspen forest
- And of course, mountains!
Perhaps the most soothing element is Gore Creek itself.
What’s so Special About Gore Creek?
The clear Rocky Mountain stream runs through the heart of Vail, serving up something for everyone.
- Residents and visitors get a peaceful place to rest
- Downstream communities get a water supply
- Wildlife relies on it for their very survival
Critters as small as a mayfly and as large as a moose all depend on the lush vegetation along the waterway, known as a riparian habitat. In fact, 80% of Colorado wildlife depend on riparian habitat at some point during their lives.
- Leaves shade the water, keeping it cool for trout that need temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Roots hold the banks together, preventing erosion and filtering pollutants out of groundwater before it reaches the creek.
As a mountain stream driven by snowmelt, Gore Creek gushes during the six weeks of spring runoff. During the winter, the flow slows dramatically.
- 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs): Highest the creek flows during peak runoff
- 10 cubic feet per second (cfs): Lowest it flows in winter
Wildlife living in and around the stream must adapt to this incredibly dynamic environment. And they do.
- Aquatic insects have evolved flat bodies and strong appendages to grasp rocks without washing away.
- The American dipper is the only songbird in North America that doesn’t have hollow bones, letting it dive underwater to catch those bugs without washing away itself.
- Native fish like the mottled sculpin have developed strong, boney pectoral fins so they can cling to rocks at the bottom of the stream while they wait for tasty bugs to drift by in the current.
The waterway is absolutely gorgeous – and vital. But its health is being threatened.
Gore Creek’s heath is threatened by pollutants. They come from urban runoff and drainage from rooftops and pavement. The decrease in streamside vegetation that used to filter and slow the drainage of pollutants adds to the problem.
All this has contributed to a decline in the number of aquatic macroinvertebrates essential for the health of the creek. So much so that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment put Gore Creek on a state list of impaired waterways in 2012.
The Town of Vail and other organizations came together to protect the waterway by introducing the “Restore the Gore” initiative in 2016.
What’s ‘Restore the Gore?’
Restore the Gore is an initiative aimed at protecting and restoring the health of the town’s important waterway. It focuses on three main areas:
- Restoring native vegetation along the banks and surrounding areas
- Developing and maintaining stormwater controls
- Improving landscaping practices to align with the creek’s restoration, including reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides
The Gore Creek watershed is made up of a variety of landscapes:
- 63% forests
- 14% brush or shrub
- 14% exposed rock or tundra
- 9% urban development and transportation corridors
While only a small percentage of the Gore Creek watershed is occupied by urban development and transportation corridors, that small percentage has had a big impact since the Vail Valley has seen significant growth from the 1980s onward. Urban development is also concentrated along the creek, magnifying its impact.
Gore Creek by the Numbers
- 20,000: Number of native trees and shrubs planted along the creek since 2016 as part of Restore the Gore
- 60: Percentage of the Gore Creek watershed that is privately owned, making it vital that local residents do their part. “Project Rewild” is a public/private cost share program to help private property owners restore their property.
- 19: Length of Gore Creek (in miles). The waterway starts in the Gore Range and is fed by a number of tributary streams until it flows into the Eagle River.
- 102: Number of square miles of land that drains into the creek
- 13,200: Peak elevation of Gore Creek (in feet)
- 7,700: Base elevation of Gore Creek (in feet)
- 60: Percentage of the volume of water that flows through the creek during spring runoff
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