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The Rocky Mountain Collegian

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CSU students help restore areas devastated by 2013 Boulder floods

Man digs hole by river
CSU junior Brad Simms gets to work with his shovel in efforts to restore the area around Left Hand Canyon from the floods. Brad is a member of CSU’s Watershed club. (Jenna Van Lone | Collegian)

Humans who rebuild an environment which nature destroyed seems like a backwards scenario.

And yet, dozens of Colorado State University students partnered with the Wildlands Restoration Volunteers Saturday to restore Left Hand Creek, an area devastated by the 2013 Boulder floods. 


According to Brad Simms, vice president of the Watershed Club and intern at WRV, the project was made specifically for college students by Luke McNally, the WRV watershed restoration manager. Simms, who had participated in a previous restoration, helped several CSU clubs mobilize their members.

Roughly 60 people attended in total: 17 came from the Environmental Sustainability and Science Club, 10 from the Watershed Club, six from the Fly Fishing Club and several others from CSU and around the community.

Volunteers arrived at 8 a.m. and stayed until 4 p.m. They were divided into five groups with each group taking on a different area of the riverbed and the tasks which came with it.

Eliot Hawkes, a sophomore ecosystem science and sustainability major, spent her morning spreading native seeds and mulch by the downstream bank.

“You feel like you’re getting a good day’s (worth) of hard work in,” Hawkes said. “I’ve wanted to volunteer with the WRV since last spring, and I got an email about it and decided just to sign up over email.”

ESS Club member drops wood chips in efforts to compact soil from flood.
Kelly Nelson, a member of the Ecosystem Science and Sustainability Club at CSU, drops wood chips to compact the soil near Left Hand Canyon in attempts to restore the land from the floods. The flood restoration event was open to members of the ESS Club, the Watershed Club, the Fly Fishing Club, and the Boulder community on Saturday. (Jenna Van Lone | Collegian)

Natalie McNees, sophomore natural resources management major, signed up independent of any clubs. Her morning consisted of backfilling trenches and pounding down stakes to keep erosion control fabric in place.

“(The riverbank) would just be this dirt pile if we weren’t doing anything,” McNees said. “And, it was fun hitting things with (a) little hammer.”

The September 2013 floods scoured large parts of the riverbanks and caused sediment deposition. According to McNally, floodwaters ripped out riparian vegetation, heightening chances of further erosion.

With funding from the National Resource Conservation Service, the WRV has been rebuilding the Left Hand Creek since February, and they expect to finish by the end of October. Before Saturday, the group focused on river channel reconstruction and realignment.


CSU students participated in the final implementation stage of restoration: revegetation, the laying down of native seed mixes, soil amendments, erosion control blankets and mulch. They also planted a palette of native wood plants such as junipers, alders and cottonwoods among others.

“We have more diversity of native plants on this project than we’ve probably ever had on a project,” McNally said. “We’re really pushing the envelope with Left Hand Creek to make this as biodiverse as possible.”

WRV will return to the site next year to evaluate the effectiveness of the restoration and look for how to improve in the future.   

As a CSU alumnus, McNally said he enjoyed seeing so many young people involve themselves in environmental projects, especially students from the Warner College of Natural Resources.

“This work is directly relevant to what they’re going to school for and can help to supplement their education with some field experience,” McNally said.

Even though the Saturday was done through several CSU clubs, students can sign-up for any WRV project they want by going to

At the end of the day, Jess Jackman, president of the ESS Club, said she enjoyed the experience.

“I love watching students get engaged in restorations,” Jackman said. “I think it was productive and successful, and I think everyone had a lot of fun as well … We’re proud of our work.”

Collegian news reporter Samantha Ye can be reached at or on Twitter @samxye4.

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