Warren Lakes today

Warren Lakes

Subtle beauty with ample mystery may best describe the former Warren Lakes area. Cradled between low, parallel granite ridges of the Smuggler plateau are a series of glacial lake beds now filled with compact, fibrous peat from 8,000 years of wetland plant growth and decomposition.

Where crystalline granite basins once held lakes glinting under a prehistoric sun, there has developed a still-growing mass of peat. This great natural sponge absorbs snowmelt and summer rains that are then filtered and slowly released into both the Hunter Creek and Roaring Fork drainages. Millions of gallons of water emerge from the peat daily, cascading into each drainage down the steep, upper valley walls.

Unsuccessful efforts to mine the peat in the last century resulted in a network of large and small ditches which drained the peat, dramatically changing the bog ecology and creating a potentially devastating fire hazard. Man-made lakes were also created in the basins which, thousands of years ago, held glacial lakes but more recently contained rich wetlands.

The Forest Service purchased the 157-acre private inholding in 1997 to preclude development and protect the highly pristine No-Name Creek of the Hunter-Frying Pan Wilderness. An immediate goal of the project was to return the peat bogs and drained lakebeds to their pre-1900 natural condition. ACES was a natural partner in the project, due to its role in land stewardship, and its history of successful partnerships with the Forest Service.

Reclamation work began in the fall of 2000. Workers and volunteers for ACES filled nearly all of the ditches, allowing water to once again fill the area and saturate the peat. Revegetation work, to cover the naked peat where the ditches were filled with native grasses and sedges, began in the fall of 2001.

If ACES' efforts produce a landscape where the scars of human industry become faint and disappear, the project will have been successful in fully returning a rare and fragile ecosystem to its wild inhabitants and restoring an invaluable natural water filter to the watershed.