Sly Park meadow restoration boosts water quality, recreation access

Oct 27, 2022 | Project Highlights

several people standing on a platform that faces a lake with a forest behind it
Staff members at the El Dorado Irrigation District host a field tour of the Hazel Meadow boardwalk and viewing platform at Jenkinson Lake in Sly Park Recreation Area. The wheelchair-accessible facilities allow more people to enjoy the scenic beauty of the meadow and lake.

The Hazel Creek restoration projects at Sly Park Recreation Area not only improved the water quality at Jenkinson Lake and vitality of a thriving meadow, but the much-needed infrastructure also allows more people to enjoy its scenic beauty.

Funding by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, California Department of Fish and Game, and the El Dorado Irrigation District (EID) paved the way for this critical drainage to be restored after construction activity and years of overuse.

Meadow restoration aids El Dorado’s top water supply

“Jenkinson Lake is the largest water supply for the district,” said Dan Corcoran, director of operations for the EID. “We serve about 130,000 people and so, as our primary water supply, we wanted to ensure that we maximized the water-quality benefits by having a properly functioning meadow.”

several people working with shovels with a lake and forest in the background
Led by staff members at the El Dorado Irrigation District, volunteers help plant native vegetation in an effort to restore Hazel Meadows. Years of hiking, mountain biking, and horse-back riding through the area degraded the once lush meadow at Jenkinson Lake that served as a natural filtration system.

According to Corcoran, Jenkinson Lake provides roughly one-third of the water needs for western El Dorado County. That number may go up to as high as one-half during the summer. Having natural filtering systems in place, such as meadows, are extremely beneficial in helping to enhance both water quality and quantity.

Prior to restoration, much of the meadow had been compacted due to sediment dredged and deposited there during the 1970s followed by heavy foot, hoof, and bicycle traffic through the area. An inefficient culvert system didn’t provide meaningful filtration of pollutants or sediment either.

Now, the restored meadow helps to prevent flooding from Hazel Creek and other ephemeral sources by slowing and spreading flood waters where native plants and grasses can once again trap any pollutants in runoff from the nearby road and campgrounds.

Sly Park improvements complement state’s ‘Outdoors for All’ initiative

The addition of a wooden bridge over Hazel Creek, picnic tables, signage about the ecology of the area, and more parking, has made Hazel Meadows the hub of an already popular Sly Park Recreation Area. The eight-mile hiking and biking trail and the 11-mile equestrian trail, both of which loop around the lake, only add to its allure. The abundance of towering pines and firs are an ideal complement, as well.

“We are the closest overnight camping location for many that provides that Sierra experience, that pine-tree feel,” Corcoran said. “It’s close to Highway 50 and it’s the closest one up Highway 50, so that is why we tend to be first choice and so we are bringing in those who don’t otherwise have a connection to the outdoors and the Sierra.”

Meadow with tall grassy, little white flowers. A boarwalk bisects it horizontally and has a small sign. A lake and forest are in the background.
The much-used ADA-compliant boardwalk serpentines through Hazel Meadow to the shores of Jenkinson Lake. The boardwalk moves users off the ground, helping to protect the meadow resulting in improved water quality and quantity in Jenkinson Lake.

Protecting the restored meadow was a matter of preventing compaction and erosion caused by overzealous hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers eager to explore picturesque views of the lake and access Sly Park’s popular trail systems. The solution, an elevated wheelchair-accessible boardwalk and viewing area, simultaneously protects the meadow and provides access to a whole new group of users.

“I think these projects were a huge success. It’s pretty exciting to see people out there, people with limited mobility and in wheelchairs out there enjoying the area because, quite frankly, there aren’t very many places out in the county that allow you to recreate in a wheelchair, so we are very fortunate to have that one area. It’s exciting to see.”

Carl Certiberi, EID Parks and Recreation Manager

The restoration projects at Hazel Meadows combine to provide a perfect example of how nature-based solutions like meadow restoration provide multiple benefits. Protecting water quality in Jenkinson Lake led directly to a restored meadow, improved facilities at a popular Sierra Nevada recreation site, and a relatively rare opportunity for people with limited mobility to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of a lush Sierra Nevada meadow and shimmering mountain lake.