Finger Rock Preserve preserves wetlands that might otherwise be lost

Brinker Creek passes through the Wetland Relief Bank in Finger Rock Preserve south of Yampa.
Ren Martin / Image Courtesy

For over 20 years, Ren Martyn has been raising livestock in a unique way in Southern Root County. Martin grows wetlands.

As Director and Owner of Finger Rock Preserve South of Yampa, Martyn operates one of 13 active, certified wetland mitigation banks in Colorado, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers database.

“Like any farmer, you have to be on the ground to understand how to manage it. If this is a business I can do all the time,” said Martin, who also works as a local real estate agent.

A wetland mitigation bank is a property created or improved to provide a healthy wetland ecosystem. Banks offer sites to developers and public agencies to purchase acres of off-site wetlands on a managed site in exchange for destroying small plots of wetlands in other developed parts of the watershed. The Finger Rock Preserve is used for wetland mitigation in the Yampa River and Eagle River watersheds.

Martin said that larger, managed wetlands provide a lower cost option for developers while taking advantage of the natural environment. Small plots of wetland in urban and crowded areas may not work well for wildlife and can be contaminated by street runoff, pollution, or weeds.

Colorado wildlife and park biologist Libby Miller visits the Steamboat Springs Preserve annually as part of wildlife surveys. The wildlife is drawn to the water and plant sanctuary, Miller said, which is also an important stopover for migratory birds to rest and refuel.

“Wetland mitigation banks, if done well, provide larger, continuous areas, and are better for wildlife than small, fragmented, poorly maintained areas,” Miller said. “One of the real benefits of his (Finger Rock) project is that it allowed water to exist in a semi-arid region during the off-season, which I think is especially important when we’re in the drought cycles.”

Clients at Finger Rock Preserve range from the Colorado Department of Transportation to ski areas, cities, schools, energy companies, and corporations. Recently, the reserve provided wetland relief to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority in exchange for about a quarter of an acre of destroyed wetlands at the ongoing Anglers 400 low-income housing project east of McDonald’s in Steamboat.

Do you enjoy this story? Get the region’s hottest news in your inbox, every day, for free. Subscribe here:

Finger Rock Preserve is a wetland mitigation bank of 255 credits in the 620-acre total preserve with about half of the wetland credits sold to date.

The original approval process for the establishment of the reserve was lengthy. Martyn found a parcel with water rights and rehabilitated what had been a weedy pasture. The mitigation bank was authorized in late 2003 by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

When he was young, Martin worked on a cattle ranch and citrus farm in Florida, later earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences. He spends many hours each week during the warmer months in his shoes wading to work in the reserve.

Other locals have helped over the years from counselors to members of Future Farmers of America at Soroco High School. Work on the site included the construction of several dam structures and water retention ponds and the cultivation of approximately 12,000 weeds and willows in the wetlands.

The fruits of years of work now include rainbow trout ponds and habitats for many species of birds and waterfowl. Martin said his favorite experience is watching bald eagles dive in search of trout. He marvels at the young geese that dive quickly and stay underwater when attacked by bald eagles, and the geese who spin and shoot in an effort to protect their young.

Wetland farmer and mitigation bank manager Ran Martin and his dog, Rotty, are at work in southern Root County.
photo courtesy

Other birds and animals in the reserve include cinnamon ducks, wild ducks, hill cranes, eagles, white pelicans, sharp-tailed grouse, sage grouse, and thistles.

The reserve is used by Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports (STARS) in the summer for hiking for veterans, children, and people in wheelchairs.

“It just gives access to more outdoor activities for people with disabilities, and fishing helps kids with patience,” said Cassie Mendoza, director of STARS Camps and Groups.

Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports customers Ashley Bristol, in the front, and Jessica Jarrell, along with family member Chad Jarrell, in the rear, fish at Finger Rock Preserve.
Stars / Image courtesy

Martyn chose the site because of the rolling terrain, soil, upper water rights reserve, and natural hydrology of the Brinker and Chimney streams that flow through the bank space. In 2011, the 620-acre site was placed under a conservation easement agreement held permanently by the Nature Conservancy.

“When you see a plot of land moving the way it was, it’s a satisfying project because of how the property has developed,” Martin said.

While the lowlands are thriving wetlands, higher elevations on the property are used for haymaking, and 100 acres are leased for livestock. Martin said that when the wetland mitigation bank is sold, likely within a few decades, the ownership will be transferred to an agency like The Nature Conservancy.

Leave a Comment