LEADVILLE, Colo. — Deep within the forest, in the middle of wilderness, something fishy is happening.
Dozens of strangers line up behind a truck, loading up backpacks, not with food or camping supplies, but with fish.
Colorado’s greenback cutthroat trout are being returned to their ancestral waters.
Boyd Wright, an aquatic conservation biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, is helping save the subspecies of trout.
The greenback cutthroats were once extinct, or so many people thought. Scientists were convinced they’d been wiped out of existence, a result of timber harvests, mining pollution and cross contamination.
However, in 2012, a discovery was made that rocked the wildlife world: a small population of greenbacks was discovered in a stream near the base of Pikes Peak.
For the past several years, volunteers have been helping Colorado Parks and Wildlife restore the fish to their former glory.
CPW has been raising the fish at a hatchery in Leadville and then releasing them into streams they once called home.
Lila Collyard was the youngest volunteer to hike up Dry Gulch recently with a backpack of fish. She and her family bushwhacked through brush and trudged through mud to release the fish into the stream.
“For me as a fly-fisherman, being able to go out into some high elevation streams and fly fish and catch some greenback is really exciting,” said Lila’s father.
Jessica Duevara is also an avid fly fisher who participated in helping stock Dry Gulch with fish. She’s more used to removing fish from creeks than stocking them.
“It was wonderful. They’re free,” she said after releasing 13 greenbacks into the water.
It’s a great experience helping native Coloradans finally return home after far too many years away.
“These fish represent part of our heritage and they have been here for thousands of years, long before we were ever here,” said Boyd Wright.
The goal is for the population of trout to one day become self-sustaining. The fish have only ever been found in the South Platte and Arkansas River basins.