The Independence Pass Foundation (IPF) has a strong reputation for creating greener and more beautiful hillsides along the Pass for over 15 years. One of their biggest challenges in recent years has been the “Top Cut” of Independence Pass, which has been subject to barren hillsides and a lack of organic material. After attempting to remedy the problem with the planting of terraces, installation of seedling trees, hydroseeding, and turf reinforcement matting, the team over at IPF decided they needed to take a different strategy to achieve success.
First, the cause of the problem needed to be appropriately identified. The hillsides below the stretch of roadway that lie beneath the summit were damaged from deposition of material sloughing off the road cuts and by precipitation and erosion resulting from run-off. The main reason previous efforts weren’t successful was because of the lack of organic material, meaning the land wasn’t supporting plant life.
Luckily, around the same time the problem was identified, IPF attended the “High Altitude Revegetation Conference” sponsored by Colorado State University, where they learned compost blankets were successfully being used to solve similar problems. This approach had not been previously used on the Pass, so IPF thought this could be the answer to the lack of plant growth.
The way a compost blanket works is by attaching a fine plastic mesh to the barren slope using soil staples. This fine layer is an essential step for keeping the above compost layer in place. Next, the compost is applied in two layers, with the top containing native grass seed to ensure its distance is close enough to the surface for optimal germination. Lastly, hydromulch mixed with tackifier and fertilizer is applied to keep the compost in place and provide the sprouts with the necessary nutrition.
After some investigating, IPF hired Environmental Logistics in 2004 to experiment with the compost blanket on a one-half acre section of the problem area. The experiment proved to be a success, as a thick layer of grass was growing at the site, thus encouraging IPF to continue the same technique on another patch of the hillside. Over the years a total of eight flourishing compost blankets have been installed on the “Top Cut” of the Pass.
This past year, a new type of compost (“bio-char”) was used in the project in an attempt to keep moisture in the soil and provide a source of organic carbon on a more long-term basis. This new cutting-edge product increased the cost of the project, however the hope is that it will improve the plant-growth for many more years to come.
The IPF and Environmental Logistics couldn’t be more thrilled with the successful transformation of the hillsides along the “Top Cut” of the Pass. Previously a barren hillside, the use of compost blankets over the years has transformed the area into grass-covered hillsides which are contributing a significant amount to the wildlife habitat and production of oxygen in the area. Well done to all who contributed to this outstanding project!