By Matt Kroschel

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– Decades of dredge mining in Colorado in the 1800s left one stream bed covered in gravel. Thanks to a large grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the job of cleaning up that area is a lot easier.

(credit: Google Earth/CPW)

“Historically, this entire valley has been decimated,” said Summit County Open Space spokesman Jason Lederer.

This week Lederer gave CBS4 a tour of the Swan River site.

(credit: CBS)

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, dredge miners turned Swan River upside down in search of gold and other precious metals. The river’s original water channels were buried and its fish populations decimated.

(credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife)

Crews finished up work on phase one of a massive effort, turning piles of rocks back into wildlife habitat. That phase began in 2015 and was compete in 2017. But there’s still more than a mile left to be finished. Contractors are taking out the gravel and once that is completed, they will begin fixing the riverbed.

(credit: CBS)

“We have a gravel quarry over here and removing all the gravel from the previous mining operation,” Lederer explained.

So far, 16 acres have been restored which has provided habitat for fish and other wildlife.

(credit: Matt Kroschel)

“We have learned a lot of lessons downstream. It came out really well. We think we can do a better job upstream and hope to get the restoration done in the next year or so,” Lederer added.

A $270,000 grant from Colorado Parks and Wildlife will help with work on another mile of stream that is expected to begin next year.

(credit: CBS)

“It is really a great catalyst for us to not only demonstrate the support we have at the state and federal level but also take that funding and find more of it.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is chipping in to help in the important project because they say the area can be a treasure once again for anglers and wildlife.

“We’re bringing back to life a fishery that had been buried for over a century,” said Jim Guthrie, the FIF Program Coordinator. “Phase 1 of the project showed that the river can be recovered. Phase 2 will use the earlier lessons and construction experience to build on the progress that’s already been made. Once it’s done, the project will have linked the river to several tributaries, creating 17 miles of connectivity.”

Matt Kroschel