Sloshing through a wet meadow in ankle deep water, I am surrounded by thick mats of sedges, rushes and some beautiful wildflowers. This saturated meadow lies in the shadows of the 13,000-foot Sheep Mountain peak near Trout Lake, Colorado. It is a scenic spot, rich in plant diversity, but also a unique habitat in Colorado.
I am visiting this lush, high-altitude wetland with the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests’ lead hydrologist, Gary Shellhorn who explains that this wet meadow is called a fen. Fens are peat-forming wetlands, created when wetland plants die leaving mats of dead and decaying plant matter. Fens are sustained by mineral-enriched groundwater, which is less acidic. For this reason fens support a more diverse plant and animal community. In southern Colorado, it takes about 2,000 years to accumulate eight inches of peat at a fen. This suggests that most fens are 4,000 to 10,000 years old.