LEE’S FERRY — For a couple of months this spring, a 10-acre area around Lee’s Ferry might resemble a bomb site. But in the long run, wildlife biologists there expect the reintroduction of native plants and trees to enhance the area.
"It will look a little severe for the first couple of months since we have to clear the whole site," said John Spence, a park botanist at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. "It'll look like a wasteland ... but it will really be quite spectacular. Within three years, you'll have cottonwoods 20 to 30 feet tall."
The latest plans call for the site, which runs from the Lee’s Ferry launch ramp downriver to the start of the Paria debris fan, to be cleared in February with planting to follow in April. Spence said signs and displays will be put up to let visitors know what's going on.
The project involves the streamside Tamarisk vegetation being bulldozed out of the way with the area being replanted with riparian trees and shrubs, such as a couple of willow species, cottonwood and four-wing saltbrush.
"Pretty much everything is in place for it," Spence said. "We've done NEPA (National Environme-ntal Policy Act) compliance, have contractors. Public comments have been fairly positive about the whole thing."
The area includes camping areas historically used by river runners prior to their departure into Grand Canyon National Park.
"We're certainly looking forward to it being a smooth transition and we support the project," said Tom Martin of the Grand Canyon Private Boaters Association.
The area now includes only a few cottonwood trees, which according to old photos, used to be plentiful there. But beavers have enjoyed using the trees for their housing. The replanted cottonwoods will be wrapped with heavy wire to discourage the beavers from gnawing them down.
Another area downstream from the boat ramp features 20 to 25 percent native species and that area will not be touched, Spence said.
"The overall goal here is to see how the restoration project works," Spence said, adding that it is part of the Lonely Dell Historic District. "We'll follow the birds to see what happens."
According to the GCPBA, there was an unintentional oversight with the project that would have eliminated the area used by private river runners for camping while preparing to launch trips. The plans would have left the only camping area for river runners more than a mile from the boat launch.
GCPBA representatives worked since October with National Park Service personnel from Glen Canyon to Grand Canyon, along with project consultants, to ensure river runners will continue to have a place to camp near their boats at Lee’s Ferry.
Back in early December, a meeting of stakeholders was held at Marble Canyon with representatives from GCNRA, GCNP, GCPBA, Grand Canyon River Guides, the Arizona Water Protection Fund, Grand Canyon Wildlands, Fred Phillips Consulting and Flagstaff Native Plant and Seed.
The meeting included an on-sight visit to the area. Planners were able to accommodate the need for camping in the area by modifying the original plan to make an area large enough to include camping for several river trips.
The Arizona Water Protection Fund is funding the project through a grant from the state. Spence said that if this project is successful, others like it may follow. Fred Phillips Consulting is the project's contractor.
River runners may need to use specific areas for Lee’s Ferry camping while the actual project is going on. Ramp rangers will be there to direct river runners to available campsites as work progresses.
The revised design allows for continued river running camping just downstream of the ramp. Besides adding additional vehicular access to the downstream end of the launch ramp currently used by nonconcessions river runners, three camps will be made available for river-running camping.