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Protecting Land on the West's Outstanding Rivers

by Western Rivers Conservancy
Protecting Land on the West's Outstanding Rivers
Dec 17, 2019

Western Rivers Conservancy: Winter 2019 Report

With backing from GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is permanently protecting land along outstanding rivers across the western United States. Your gift supports the core costs of purchasing and conserving land for the benefit of fish, wildlife and people. Your contribution is dedicated to such efforts as preserving salmon and wildlife habitat, and creating new hiking trails, boating access and recreational opportunities.                                      

Thanks to your support, Western Rivers Conservancy has:   

  • Protected a steelhead stronghold in the heart of the sagebrush-steppe on Oregon’s John Day River
  • Created a new wellness park for the City of Alamosa on the banks of Colorado’s Upper Rio Grande     

Oregon’s John Day River:

On Oregon’s Wild and Scenic John Day River, WRC has wrapped up a major accomplishment at Thirtymile Creek that will benefit the river’s critical run of wild steelhead, conserve prime habitat for wildlife and improve public river access at the heart of a spectacular river canyon.

After a five-year effort, we completed transfer of the Rattray and Campbell ranches to the Bureau of Land Management, forever protecting the lower nine miles of Thirtymile Creek, right where it flows into the John Day. The effort protected 10 miles of the main-stem John Day and 22,032 acres of prime wildlife habitat. At the same time, we secured prized public boating access to a prime stretch of the river and created a new recreational gateway to 78,000 acres of rugged sagebrush country—public land that was previously impossible to reach without a boat. Now open to the public, these lands deliver the only public river access on a remote, 70-mile stretch of the John Day. Boating this reach—one of the most scenic multi-day wilderness floats in the Pacific Northwest—previously required a five-day float from the upstream put-in at Clarno Bridge, unless you paid to drop your boat in (or take it out) at Rattray Ranch. Now, this mid-way access point is open to all, free of charge.

Beneath brick-red cliffs, Thirtymile Creek feeds the lower John Day with its largest source of cold water. When the John Day runs low and warm in summer and fall, Thirtymile Creek comes through with reliable, cold flows just when wild salmon and steelhead need them most. The creek contains key spawning and rearing habitat that will keep lower-river steelhead—one of the healthiest wild populations in the Columbia system—going strong. Thirtymile Creek is also vital for Chinook salmon and for the John Day’s diverse wildlife, including Oregon’s largest herd of California bighorn sheep.

Throughout the project, we worked with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, BLM and Gilliam County Soil and Water Conservation District to remove four fish-passage barriers in Thirtymile Creek and transform two former cattle ranches into thriving fish and wildlife habitat. With the land in BLM hands, the restoration work will continue with a number of local partners.

While this chapter is complete, WRC continues its efforts to improve the health of the Wild and Scenic John Day River—and to keep its water flowing for fish and wildlife and its unique outdoor adventures open to all.

Colorado’s Upper Rio Grande:     

On the banks of the upper Rio Grande, we’ve added a stunning new riverfront park to the city of Alamosa. In October, we cut the ribbon on Alamosa Riparian Park, which now protects more than a mile of open space along the Rio Grande. Long-anticipated by the community, the park joins the city’s growing green-space offerings, which connect residents to their backyard river. The park itself adds more than five miles of nature trails where people can stay active and reconnect with the outdoors.

Beneath the shade of tall cottonwoods (or alamosas, in Spanish), visitors can walk, run, bike and view birds and wildlife year-round. The park is also a de facto sanctuary for creatures like endangered southwest willow flycatcher, river otter and bald eagle.

Before October, access to the Rio Grande was limited, even though the river winds along the edge of town. The community has wanted better access to the river for years and, in 2017, we partnered with the city to make this a reality. WRC purchased two adjacent properties from families who, like WRC, wanted to keep the land undeveloped as public open space. This fall, we conveyed the land to the city, and now Alamosa Riparian Park is open for all.

Creation of this outstanding public resource inspired broad local support, including from the city, Alamosa County, San Luis Valley Great Outdoors, the Gates Family Foundation, Rio Grande Watershed Conservation and Education Initiative, Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many others. Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), which is funded by the Colorado Lottery, ranked Alamosa Riparian Park as its top Open Space Project in 2018 and awarded a major grant to the project so the city could buy the land.

WRC’s efforts in Alamosa are part of our broader work in the San Luis Valley, where we are conserving tens of thousands of acres of key habitats and providing new public access to the Rio Grande and its tributaries. In 2015, we established the San Luis Valley Conservation Fund together with the LOR Foundation, Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust and Colorado Open Lands, with the goal of accelerating conservation efforts

Conclusion

The John Day and the Alamosa Riparian Park projects are just some of our recent projects. WRC currently has over two dozen active projects in six states. With the support of GlobalGiving donors, Western Rivers Conservancy is expanding our efforts to protect riverlands for fish, wildlife and people.

We love to hear from our supporters. Please contact Anne Tattam at 503-241-0151, ext. 219 (or atattam@westernrivers.org) for further information. Thank you.


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Organization Information

Western Rivers Conservancy

Location: PORTLAND, OREGON - USA
Website:
Project Leader:
Anne Tattam
Administrative and Development Associate
Portland, OR United States

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