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For the week of December 6 through 12, 2000

River greenway project gains momentum

Public access and wildlife habitat would benefit


"Anywhere we can restore wetland and riparian habitat, we’re totally in support of that. If you don’t protect it now, you’re not going to have it."

Robert Flowers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Since Wood River Land Trust (WRLT) executive director Scott Boettger moved to the Wood River Valley in 1997, he’s been eyeing the stretch of the Big Wood River between Hailey and Bellevue as a potential "greenway" for environmental preservation and public access.

The Wood River Land Trust’s greenway project would ultimately link Hop Porter Park to Bellevue. Pending projects include ones near Lion’s and Heagle parks.

There are many pieces to the greenway puzzle, but some have begun to fall in place.

Valley residents venturing to a stretch of the Big Wood River south of Bullion Street in Hailey could soon find it restored a little closer to its original state.

The Wood River Land Trust in cooperation with the city of Hailey, is working to preserve a river-front "greenway" from Hop Porter Park on the north to near Bellevue on the south. The concept of the perhaps four-mile-long greenway is to maintain a public corridor along the river as well as to protect and restore environmentally sensitive riparian attributes.

Preservation efforts will include restoration of land that is already publicly owned and acquisition, through title or preservation easements, of several private parcels.

The immediate riparian restoration projects include sections from Lion’s Park on the north to Heagle Park on the south.

"Anywhere we can restore wetland and riparian habitat, we’re totally in support of that," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager Robert Flowers said during a tour of the pending project sites Friday. "If you don’t protect it now, you’re not going to have it."

WRLT executive director Scott Boettger hosted the Friday tour for agency personnel who will be responsible for approving the work.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Department of Water Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Trout Unlimited officials said they liked the project conceptually. Details will have to be hammered out later, they said.

Two phases will embody the project. One phase would consist of grading the stream bank on the west side of the river, in Lion’s Park, and perhaps adding weirs in the river to slow stream flows and create fish habitat.

Over 5,000 cubic yards of material would be removed from the Lion’s Park stream bank, tapering it 80 to 90 feet from the river bank. All existing vegetation would be preserved and more would be planted.

The second phase would involve construction of a holding pond just south of Heagle Park, partially on the site of the old Riverside sewage treatment plant. The approximately one-acre pond would help to slow the river’s flow, help the river drop debris it carries during high flows and create a riparian area in and around the pond. The holding pond would function similarly to the Hulen Meadows pond north of Ketchum.

Together, both phases would cost approximately $500,000, which would be raised from grants and private fundraising, Boettger said.

The river originally meandered through the corridor, but was channeled using a berm on the east side of the river to protect property investments in the early 1900s, Boettger said. The city of Hailey has used Lion’s Park as a fill area for debris from construction sites, further channeling the river.

"We obviously can’t take the berms out and put the meanders back in," Boettger said, "but we want to get it as natural as possible."

The projects should be handled carefully, said Bruce Lium, river bank and riparian systems restoration specialist for American Water Resources, a consulting company.

"The river channel is so delicate and so dynamic that we have to be very careful what we do with it," he said. "Delicate touches are important here rather than major changes."

Boettger agreed.

"The strengths aren’t in the parts but the total," he said.

If all the pieces fall into place, the project could get off the ground next fall, Boettger said. Hailey’s approval will be sought in January, and agency permit approval from the several federal and state agencies involved could be in by March. If fundraising comes through, work could begin during autumn’s low water.

Acquisition of needed private parcels was given a boost last week when Ernie Gore and Cheri Ashworth, developers of a nearby subdivision, donated a 2.2-acre parcel of riparian property to the WRLT. The property is being called the Cedar Bend Donation.

The property provides mature cottonwood wetland habitat, mitigates downstream flooding and provides and important fishing access in the heart of Hailey, Boettger said.

A privately-owned property across the river from Lion’s Park is also a missing piece of the puzzle. Boettger said efforts are ongoing to arrange an outright purchase or easement purchase on the property.

Privately owned land south of Heagle Park is also missing from the puzzle as well as three small lots near the Cedar Bend Donation.

"Obviously, to do these things, you just do them a piece at a time," Boettger said.

 

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