A big source of pride for Los Alamos is its open spaces. The local landscape is celebrated through books, photographs and lectures; furthermore, it receives adoration from everyone including naturalists, scientists, bikers, hikers and mountain climbers.
Even though the residents love and appreciate the great outdoors, it doesn’t mean Los Alamos’ open spaces aren’t immune to problems.
Take for instance Graduation Canyon. President of Keystone Restoration Ecology Steve Vrooman said its watershed was impacted by urban runoff. He explained water that spills off roof tops during rain storms or flows from curbside gutters isn’t absorbed into the ground. As a result, when a great amount of water reaches the streams and channels in Graduation Canyon, it washed away the soil and eroded the watershed down to its bedrock.
However, due to the initiative of former Parks and Recreation Board Member Mike Steinzig, Los Alamos County staff and a group of residents dedicated to maintaining the natural landscape, conditions in Graduation Canyon have turned around. Natural Channel Design and Vrooman’s company were contracted to help restore the canyon’s watershed.
Los Alamos County Open Space Specialist Eric Peterson said a four-man team and two machines spent 10 days hauling and placing natural materials to help restore the channels and streams in a 24 acre parcel of land in the canyon. He said the project was two to three years in the making but construction work was done early this spring. He estimates the total project cost was $30,000.
The project, Peterson said, is an important one.
“The community places a lot of value in its open space and it’s important to take care of our canyons and to take care of their health,” he said.
Peterson said the project in Graduation Canyon was a pilot project and the hope is to encourage County officials who make decisions on funding to continue this type of project in other areas in Los Alamos as finances allow.
Tuesday afternoon, a group of residents along with County staff and officials hiked into Graduation Canyon to view the end results of the project.
Vrooman pointed out the work that has been done. To capture water and prevent erosion, “plugs” were created using fabric, logs and boulders. Also, wetland plants were used. The purpose, he said, is to ensure water is stored, more plants grow and the watershed becomes more and more stable.
“These are living systems that we want to grow in health and stability,” Vrooman said.
He added, “There are many other synergistic opportunities that we should take advantage of in future efforts, such as thinning to return our canyons to inherently fire-resistant landscapes. Thinning operations can be combined with invasive species removal (Siberian elms and Russian olives) at little extra cost. Larger logs from thinning can be used to support the erosion control, and smaller slash can be used to create wildlife habitat. Some slash piles can be burned to reduce fuel loading, but also planted to take advantage of the added fertilizer, and prevent the backgrowth of other invasive species (like cheat grass).”
Many on the tour said they were impressed by the results already visible.
“I love it,” County Councilor Antonio Maggiore said. “Absolutely love it. It’s incredible to see (the project) have such an effect.”
He added that he hopes similar projects will be done in other canyons.
County Manager Harry Burgess agreed.
“It’s a great change for the best,” he said. “It’s exciting to have a successful pilot project such as this and I look forward to other opportunities to do similar kinds of projects.”
Parks and Recreation Board Chair Stephanie Nakhleh said, “It’s so gratifying to see something go through all the planning process … it’s really exciting to see. I was not expecting so much healthy growth.”
She added that she hopes the success of the Graduation Canyon project will encourage the public to push for more restoration projects in other areas in the County. Volunteers for restoration work also are needed: interested people can contact Jonathan Creel of the Pajarito Environmental Education Center, who is organizing a volunteer corps, Nakhleh said. Creel can be reached at 505.662.0460.
“We have to help,” Nakhleh said. “It doesn’t get done on its own.”