The sound of revving chain saws and crackling tree limbs filled Palisade’s Riverbend Park on Monday morning as Western Colorado Conservation Corps crews sawed through invasive Russian olive trees and ripped up tamarisk.
“I’ve done a lot of projects like this,” Conservation Corps Crew Leader Matt Costigan said. “You go from super thick tamarisk and Russian olive you can’t even walk through to just level ground.”
The work to restore the native habitat along the Colorado River in the park is thanks to a partnership between the Town of Palisade and RiversEdge West, which is working to remove the invasive species.
RiversEdge West is using a grant to fund the Conservation Corps work, which will continue for four days this week, moving east of the boat ramp. Costigan explained how the non-native plants harm the river ecosystem.
“They out-compete with the native plants, and they don’t let the native willows and cottonwoods grow how they’re supposed to,” Costigan said. “They also grow in so thick, it blocks wildlife from accessing the water. So there are a lot of reasons that we want to remove these invasive plants.”
Troy Ward, Palisade director of Parks, Recreation and Events, said the collaboration with RiversEdge began last year and is expected to continue for some time to fully restore the riverbank in Riverbend Park.
“This will be a couple year process,” Ward said. “We know that every time we go through and remove, it comes back with vigor. So we have to trim and treat year after year to hopefully eradicate the problem.”
Ward pointed to a section of the bank that had tamarisk and Russian olive removed last fall. The tamarisk was already reestablishing itself, since crews could not get to the area earlier in the year because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Give a foothold, it will explode again,” Ward said. “So due to COVID-19 we were delayed in our efforts to come back and rework this section. You can see how the growth just exploded.”
As part of its grant, Rivers- Edge West will also help Palisade plant native vegetation in the area.
It has already planted several cottonwood trees in the bank it had previously cleared. In addition to cottonwoods, Ward said it will plant willows and native grasses.
The town also has a new wood chipper it was able to purchase with grant funds, which will allow it to reuse the wood chips elsewhere in its parks. This will keep the town from having to dispose of the plant material in a less useful way, Ward said.
“Instead of us having to send this to the landfill or burn it, we can now chip it and then we can create mulch that we can use to augment some of our soils on the badlands, if you will, out in the disc golf area,” Ward said. “If citizens want some of this mulch, we can make it available to them as well.”
Ward praised the work of the Conservation Corps, as well as the town’s partnership with RiversEdge West. He said the town would not have the resources to do this mitigation work without their help.
Rica Fulton, restoration coordinator with RiversEdge West, echoed those comments in a statement about the project.
“The ongoing restoration work at Riverbend Park in Palisade illuminates the importance of collaborating to effectively restore riverside areas, share resources and complete various stages of restoration simultaneously,” Fulton said. “The Town of Palisade contintues to be an amazing steward of the riverside area and puts resources and thoughtful management towards Riverbend Park.”