Thornton project aims to turn Big Dry Creek precipice into gentler slope

Pilot project should be complete in spring 2020

Posted 10/3/19

An effort to convert a portion of the Big Dry Creek from a steep canal through Thornton’s open space into a meandering stream should wrap up this winter. “The intent is to improve wildlife …

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Thornton project aims to turn Big Dry Creek precipice into gentler slope

Pilot project should be complete in spring 2020

Posted

An effort to convert a portion of the Big Dry Creek from a steep canal through Thornton’s open space into a meandering stream should wrap up this winter.

“The intent is to improve wildlife habitat and make it more of a sustainable creek during large runoff event,” said Paula Schulte, Thornton’s parks and open space project manager. “The water will be able to spread into the flood plain, versus going like a roller coaster down that chute.”

Work reshaping the creek’s path through Thornton’s open space between E-470 and 152nd Parkway and west of York Street should be completed before the year’s end, Schulte said. Landscaping and planting along the creek’s banks should wrap up in May.

It’s a pilot project between the city and the Mile High Flood District that kicked off Sept. 16.

The Big Dry Creek is a tributary that covers about 110 square-miles between Golden’s Coal Creek Canyon and Fort Lupton in Weld County, where it meets up with the South Platte River.

Historically, it’s been dry more often than it’s been a creek.

“It was called Big Dry Creek for a reason, but with development the creek got more water,” she said. “If you have a parking lot or building, you have one point where the runoff goes and feed into the creek. If there’s no lot there, the water drains off and makes its way to the water table that way.”

MORE: Westminster puts brakes on Big Dry Creek basin development for a year

Water treatment plants in Westminster and Broomfield feed the stream, too.

“So, now there’s water in it all the time,” she said. “And when you get a storm event on top of everything, it just digs down.”

That’s what happened to the stream now.

“Right now, it’s eroded,” Schulte said. “If you stand on the bank, six to 10 feet below you is the water of Big Dry Creek. There is no easy access to it. It’s eroded and it’s like the Grand Canyon.”

The project is costing about $1.5 million, paid for by grants from Great Outdoors Colorado and Adams County Open Space.

“Without them, we could not do this,” Schulte said. “It’s a lot of money just for the beauty and reflection and quietness and improving the habitat.”

The project aims to turn those sharp canals into more gradual grades, hopefully benefiting the area all around the creek.

“When there is a big storm event, the water goes whooshing through and doesn’t spread out on the flood plain and nourish the area,” Schulte said. “If you lay back those 10-foot-tall banks, you can reconnect it to the flood plain and natural plants can reach the water. It makes for better habitat and for better water quality. All the silt and dirt is not washing through, it’s soaking into the flood plain area.”

Over the next few months, crews from Mile High Flood District will be cutting the stream’s sides, creating tiers and steps down to the water. They shouldn’t change the path of the stream much, but some change will be inevitable.

“In order to spread the creek out, it will change things a little bit,” Schulte said. “The Army Corps of Engineers gave it a permit but that’s just because we needed to room to do it.”

Once the channel is set, crews will begin planting native plants along the area, removing plants like the Russian Olive Trees, a non-native plant that’s considered invasive.

“These are wetland, riparian trees and shrubs — and this according to the Army Corps of Engineer’s permit,” she said. “The goal is to make it all more gorgeous and healthy, with more habitat and much more plant material. Right now, it’s so steep not much can grow there.”

Both the flood district and the Army Corps of Engineers will monitor the area for five years.

“We are changing a little bit of it, and they’ll be looking at it make sure everything goes,” she said.

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