Student-led Rocky Mountain National Park restoration project wins award

lulu city area of rocky mountain national park
Lulu Wetland and Colorado River, the primary sediment deposition site from the 2003 Grand Ditch breech.

Jeremy Sueltenfuss, a third year doctoral candidate in the Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, was selected as the recipient for the 2017 Rocky Mountains Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit Student Award. This awards program was established in 2007 to identify outstanding accomplishments by students involved in RM-CESU projects. These projects often involve providing specialized research, education, and technical assistance to land management agencies in the Rocky Mountain region.

This award recognizes Sueltenfuss’ contribution in creating the restoration design for Lulu City wetland in Rocky Mountain National Park. His restoration plan is one of the final elements needed to complete the Grand Ditch Breach Restoration Plan that RMNP managers began fourteen years ago. In 2003, the Grand Ditch water-diversion canal breached its bank sending a large mud- and rock-slide directly into Lulu Creek and the headwaters of the Colorado River. The debris that covered approximately 22 acres of riparian habitat, and diverted 1.5 miles of stream and river altered the hydrological processes and ecological services of this system. Sueltenfuss’s blueprint presents a plan to restore these important functions to this destabilized area.


The Rocky Mountains Cooperative Ecosystems Studies Unit is an independent venture between 13 leading academic programs and nine federal agencies in the Rocky Mountain region. It coordinates scientific research to expand the knowledge base for managing natural and cultural resources in the region and extend expertise to national issues when needed.

“This design focused on restoring an appropriate hydrological regime to encourage the reestablishment of various plant communities,” Sueltenfuss said. “The main long-term goal is to provide an environment conducive to rapid willow growth which will hopefully bring beaver back to naturally regulate this ecosystem again.”

restoration design of lulu city in rocky mountain national park
Current condition of Lulu City area (left) and proposed topography after creating a new connecting upstream and downstream river channel (right). Colors represent one meter elevation intervals.

This award also recognized that Sueltenfuss’s efforts went above and beyond the initial needs for the project. His principal research focus in wetland hydrology and plant communities was well suited for this project. However, he also incorporated an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach to the practice and science of restoration ecology that CSU Senior Research Scientist David Cooper recognized in his written award nomination for Sueltenfuss.

“Jeremy’s work is interdisciplinary, involving hydrology, geomorphology, vegetation science, ecology and technology,” Cooper said. “Because he can integrate so many fields, his work is of exceptional value to Rocky Mountain National Park and other parks in the region. His ability to work closely and contribute to the information needs of federal agencies is unparalleled.”

Sueltenfuss’s interest in this project doesn’t end with the design. He will be watching what the ecological response of the Lulu City wetland ecosystem is after his design is implemented. His pioneering methods and results will help advance the iterative process needed to advance a young discipline like restoration ecology.

doctoral candidate in front of mountain and meadow
Jeremy Sueltenfuss received an award for his innovative interdisciplinary approach to restoring the Lulu City area of Rocky Mountain National Park.