A backhoe gouges a trench in the bank of Mud Creek.
Will Mud Creek have to be renamed? Well, that might be necessary if a restoration project now under way on the little stream works as planned.
For those unfamiliar with the creek's location, it meanders through the canyon wetlands south of Scofield Town and eventually empties into Scofield Reservoir. Along each of its many twists and turns, it scours mud from the banks that are too steep in some places for plants to take root. During spring runoff or after heavy rainstorms, that amounts to a lot of mud going into the reservoir - our principal source of water and a nice place to fish.
In that mud is phosphorus, the P element that is on the enemies list of environmentalists, anglers and the people who treat your drinking water. According to Justin Hart, Regional Assistant Aquatics Manager for the Division of Wildlife Resources, too much phosphorus causes "eutrophication" of reservoirs - an explosion in plant growth that eventually depletes oxygen in the water, kills fish, and causes all sorts of problems at water treatment facilities.
That is why the state's Department of Environmental Quality has teamed up with Wildlife Resources and Carbon County to do something. Major funding for the project is coming from the county's Recreation and Transportation Special Service District, the agency that invests federal royalty money from fossil fuel production in various improvement projects.
The county owns the acreage bordering some 1.8 miles of Mud Creek, where the work is going on.
Hart described the major aspects of what is happening. First, the steeper slopes are being smoothed down so ground-holding plants like willows and other riparian vegetation can take root. Next, the outside edges of the stream curves are being fortified with logs and boulders to prevent erosion.
These are big logs, some 15 or more feet long and more than a foot in diameter, but most of the wood is invisible, buried in trenches dug into the banks. Only a few feet stick out into the stream. The boulders hold the logs in place and the most of the reinforcing material is covered with earth that will be seeded or planted. It does not look like rip-rap along the banks.
The logs and boulders also slow down the velocity of the water so it doesn't have as much force to cause erosion, Hart explained.
These impediments also create underwater "structure" that attracts fish, he added. Fish like to hang out in places where the water doesn't flow so fast so they don't have to be swimming against the current all the time.
Hart said the stretch of stream has the potential of becoming a prime place to go fishing, and should also be a good habitat for other types of riparian wildlife.
Ultimately, the work will be all but invisible, Hart said.
About the only thing that will be apparent to anyone walking or horseback riding in the area will be a rustic fence that will gently curve its way yards away from the stream. It will keep cows and cars away from the stream while still allowing hikers and anglers to come in.
The big construction machines will be gone in another month or so, and in the silence that follows nature will take over the job. And maybe there will be a contest to rename the former Mud Creek. (Clear Creek and Fish Creek have already been taken.)