This past weekend, Daniel Timmons, Wild Rivers Program Director, and I joined about 50 other volunteers for a community science day in Homestake Valley, Colorado. The community “bioblitz” was an effort led by local organizations Wilderness Workshop and Eagle River Watershed Council to document biodiversity in the area.
Homestake Valley is located in southern Eagle County, near the towns of Red Cliff and Leadville. This valley is beloved by locals for its crystal clear streams, stunning mountain views and an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities. All manner of folks from the surrounding towns and farther afield showed up for the day – a geology professor and his students, young families, a journalist, birders, local teachers, seasonal vacationers, and more. Despite their different backgrounds, everyone was united by a desire to document what’s at stake in this precious valley.
Over the course of the day, we muddied our feet looking for wetland plants, studied the wildflowers, shrubs, and grasses growing in the forest understory, and squinted at tiny aquatic bugs to identify them by their number of legs, tails, and other features. Homestake Valley features a very rare type of wetland called a fen, which is fed by groundwater and forms over thousands of years through the accumulation of peat, or partially decomposed plant material. Not only do countless plant and wildlife species depend on fens for habitat, but these priceless wetlands act as critical carbon sinks and natural water storage infrastructure.
Last year was the first Homestake Valley Bioblitz, and although the stats are still rolling in from this year, volunteers have identified 115 species and counting. Knowing what kinds of plants and animals are found in Homestake Valley is particularly important because this biodiverse and one-of-a-kind, unique landscape is threatened by a proposal from the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs to build a new dam and reservoir to divert water out of the local basin and pipe it to the Front Range. If this proposal were to go through, the thriving ancient wetlands that we spent our day exploring would all be destroyed, drowned underwater by a reservoir.
Guardians is working alongside Wilderness Workshop, Eagle River Watershed Council, and other groups to protect these ancient fens of Homestake Valley and the thriving community of interconnected life species within them from being lost to development. Stay in touch with us as we work to protect the Homestake Valley – sign up here to get updates directly in your inbox!