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The Future of Fountain Creek: Frost Ranch Owner Takes the Long View
Here in the Pikes Peak region, many of us play in the Fountain Creek Watershed, whether we’re aware of it or not. We might hike or ride our bikes along Fountain Creek and its tributaries. We might fish or paddle our kayak in the creeks or lakes. But most of us don’t work the land – and we rarely witness Fountain Creek’s tempestuous nature.
But Jay Frost, third-generation owner of Frost Ranch south of Fountain, Colorado, has endured the creek’s unruly temperament for decades. “I’ve been watching the creek all my life,” he says. “We make a living here. We try to deal with its unpredictable nature.”
Frost Ranch has deep roots in local ranching and farming traditions. The Frost family raises grass-fed and grass-finished lamb and beef in its irrigated meadows. They grow non-certified organic vegetables and grass/alfalfa hay in the irrigated parts of the farm. The Frost family takes pride in growing healthy, sustainable food. The lamb and beef are free of hormones, antibiotics, and corn; fields are never sprayed; and vegetable planting, irrigating, weeding, and harvesting are all done using holistic and traditional methods.
Fountain Creek’s erosion and sedimentation issues are vexing. How does this impact Frost Ranch?
“The creek is flashy,” Jay says. “If there’s a little sniffle of rain in Colorado Springs, here comes the water! We can go from a base flow of 60 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 22,000 cfs. When the water calms down, all the sediment drops. The sediment load in Fountain Creek is crazy!”
Simultaneously, the ranch is literally losing property from erosion. “We have a big cut bank – we refer to it as the Great Wall,” Jay notes. “It’s 60 feet deep and at least a quarter of a mile long. It’s sloughing off soil all the time.”
Jay adds that floodwater can wash away fences and irrigation pipes, and sedimentation can damage irrigation infrastructure. The Frost family no longer grazes livestock near the creek due to the invasion of non-native plants. “Parts of the creek are choked with trees and exotic species like salt cedar [tamarisk] and Russian olive trees,” he says. “You can’t fence the dang thing. It’s just gnarly.”
That’s why, nearly three decades ago, Jay helped to form a coalition to begin focusing on the Fountain Creek Watershed – and begin addressing its many issues regarding flooding, erosion, and sedimentation.
This early initiative helped to pave the way for the formation of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control & Greenway District. Soon after the District was formed, Frost Ranch collaborated with District engineers to address a serious erosion issue on the ranch. According to the Project Summary, the lack of vegetation along approximately 400 feet of the creek’s bank allowed soil to be readily removed during high-flow events, resulting in flood damage, bank erosion, and increased downstream sedimentation.
Unfortunately, the repair project didn’t hold – a flooding incident washed it away. But Jay isn’t completely surprised, due to the turbulent nature of the creek. “Fountain Creek is normally a dribble, but it’s prone to flooding,” he says. “It can be wilder than hell when it’s really rolling.”
A Comprehensive Solution is the Best Way Forward
When it comes to Fountain Creek, Jay Frost takes the long view. “I believe we can find a comprehensive solution – a silver bullet – that will address the entire Fountain Creek Watershed,” he says. “A comprehensive solution – an absolutely engineered approach – is always better than just taking a stab at the issues, project by project.”
This is one of the benefits of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, which is addressing the watershed comprehensively. In fact, since 2009, the District has planned and/or implemented more than a dozen construction projects to address critical erosion and sedimentation issues throughout the watershed. Various project aspects involve restoring the main channel, realigning the creek, stabilizing steep cut banks, revegetating, protecting wetlands, and restoring riparian habitat. At the end of the day, if Fountain Creek has less erosion, less sedimentation, better quality and accessible water, we all benefit.
I n the conversation with Jay, it was noted that ranchers and farmers are on the front lines of water issues, fighting the good fight. “Yeah,” Jay replies, “but it’s so worth it.”
Learn more about the Frost Ranch Stabilization Project: http://www.fountain-crk.org/completed-projects/frost-ranch-bank-stabilization-project/
Learn more about Frost Ranch farm dinners, hunting club, and wedding packages: http://www.Frost-Livestock.com
Brand image and photos courtesy of Frost Ranch.