Conservation and Restoration
I purchased the land that is now Aspen Ridge Ranch back in 1990. At that time, it had been used as a cattle ranch for more than 70 years. The river banks were denuded and they had eroded so much over the decades of abuse that the river had widened to nearly twice its original width and become more shallow. Combined with the lack of streamside vegetation, which meant less shade and more siltation from erosion, the water temperatures rose dramatically. The first summer I spent at Aspen Ridge the water temperature reached 76 degrees by the end of August. Of course fish were scarce.
During the first three years of my ownership I worked, with the help of the local fly fishing club, to rehabilitate the river and riparian zone. We placed bank stabilizing trees in the river and these also proved to be great habitat for fish.
I've also planted nearly 1000 willows, a few of which are actually growing well, finally.
The eroded banks have now completely filled in with grasses, sedges and other riparian plants. Monkey flowers and wild mint line the river's edge and the deep cut-banks reach back nearly two feet. It is here in these dark, safe recesses that the big fish hang out.
Now the water temperature seldom rises above 62 degrees and the fish have increased in both numbers and size. I attribute 98% of the stream's recovery to the fact that cattle have not been on these banks for ten years.
The fish have returned to this section of the river so successfully that in 1998 I started inviting fly fishers to come fish the river in order to help supplement the loss of revenues from cattle grazing. Because there is very little public access to the Upper Williamson River—it is almost all privately owned cattle ranches—fly fishers are ecstatic to learn that they can now come fish some rehabilitated waters.
The river banks as they looked in 1990
Placing trees in the river to stabilize the banks
The river as it looks today
Photo: Ken Moorish