EDWARDS, Colo. – June 10, 2019 – Driving home on April 13th, looking at the tumultuous sky, I thought to myself, ‘these moments in life are rare.’ As I reflected on the day, I was amazed by the efforts of a group of intrepid volunteers who gave up one of the last powder days of the season to come clean up their river. On that day about 30 local citizens came out to help Eagle River Watershed Council – using their own boats, tarps & tools, and plenty of their sweat and muscle – to remove degrading tires from the river.
The tires that had sat in the river bed for decades were pulled from the river and collected over last summer and fall by some amazing local citizens. Vik Raol recounts how it all came about, “While rafting near the confluence of Lake Creek on the Eagle River our daughter, Suri (6 yrs old at the time), asked ‘why are there so many tires in the river? Isn’t that bad for the fish? We should get them out of here… it makes our river look dirty and it can’t be good for the river.’ Of course one always wants to support their children so we said ‘let’s do it’, not knowing yet what was involved…That was in 2016/2017. We knew removing a few tires wouldn’t do for Suri, she wanted all of them out!”
The Raol’s contacted the Army Corps of Engineers and Eagle River Watershed Council for help. Due to concerns about stirring up metals and significant sediment from the river bottom, it took another year filled with numerous calls, meetings, and visits to decide how to proceed with minimal impact on the ecosystem, but in late spring 2018, the Raol’s got approval to start removing the tires.
“We thought there might be 50 or so – we were so wrong about that! After we removed a few with Suri on her paddle board spotting them, she kept finding more and more,” said Raol.
The Raol’s quickly realized they needed more help and reached out to their neighbors Greg and Stephanie Keogh, who were happy to be involved.
When all was said and done, the Raol’s and Keogh’s spent months pulling over 180 tires out of the river, as well as cans, metal stakes, an engine block, plastic tarps, and shoes. The tires came in all shapes and sizes (Ford Model T, tractor, car, and motorcycle), many still attached to the rim, which made them difficult to remove and required the Raol’s and Keogh’s to come up with a hook and pulley system to pull them from the river. As they worked, they collected all of the tires on a sandbar.
The effort to remove the collected tires from that sandbar in April was a prime example of collaboration and people coming together to achieve a common goal. Without the generous use of boats from Vail Valley Anglers, the Watershed Council’s board of directors, and other local citizens, the tires would have been flushed downstream with spring runoff. With trucks provided by GE Johnson, the Town of Avon, and Kim & Tom Davies, local homeowners, we were able to move the tires to a secure location provided by Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.
Not only was this an exemplary collaborative project, it was an enjoyable community gathering. Local school kids, teachers, anglers and guides, nonprofits, municipalities, and local citizens came together to complete the project. Susan Raol said of the tire removal day in April, “The event was fun and so rewarding! Watching Suri, seeing all those who came to help, and the six rafts in the river loaded with the tires that cold snowy morning was amazing and an experience she will never forget.”
The collected tires will be recycled through the Bridgestone Tires4Ward program; along with tires collected from other cleanup events, including the Watershed Council’s 19thAnnual Community Pride Highway Cleanup and the first ever Lake Creek Village Cleanup (a collaborative project of Eagle River Watershed Council, Walking Mountain’s Climate Action Collaborative, Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement, US Forest Service, Our Community Foundation, and Eagle Valley Birding Society).
A simultaneous effort downstream was started last fall by Kent and James Petersmeyer, creating a second pile of tires which were removed separately. Even with these two large efforts, the removal project is not over. During low water and even on the project removal day more tires could be seen in the river. Greg Keough explains, “The water in the Eagle River is vital and any pollution it receives here propagates downward. Tires decompose in a very nasty way with petrochemicals seeping out of them and then completely disappearing into the water. We personally believe the earth is at or beyond a point of no return and anything we can do to reduce the human impact on our natural areas we try to do.”
Eagle River Watershed Council wishes to thank all the folks who came out to help: GE Johnson, Town of Avon, Vail Valley Anglers, Eagle Valley Trout Unlimited, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, and especially The Raol and Keogh families. Thanks also to Starbucks, Village Bagel and Home Depot for their donations.
Written by: Kate Isaacson, Projects & Events Coordinator at Eagle River Watershed Council.