Nature finds its
Land trust works
Express Staff Writer
interns for the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust recently installed a
key component in an ongoing, multi-year project to restore a degraded
section of Elkhorn Creek in southern Sun Valley.
Frenzl, stewardship coordinator for the Wood River Land Trust, with
interns Joselin Matkins and Siohban Sutton, recently installed a
three-inch-diameter plastic pipe through a beaver dam at the outlet of
Sunrise Pond in Elkhorn. The project was designed to keep Elkhorn Creek
flowing without eliminating the beaver dam or the pond. Photo
courtesy of Wood River Land Trust
Frenzl, stewardship coordinator for the organization, with interns
Joselin Matkins and Siohban Sutton, installed a three-inch-diameter
plastic pipe through a beaver dam at the outlet of Sunrise Pond—a
circular, somewhat stagnant pool between Sunrise subdivision and Lane
was installed as a unique compromise between the interests of a family
of resident beavers and those of the trio of restoration workers, who
are aiming to increase water flow out of the pond, to reduce the buildup
of algae and prevent a nearby restored wetland from being inundated with
environmentalists say they believe the increased water flow out of the
pond will also assist in their greater mission: returning Elkhorn Creek
to its historic, meandering course westward along Elkhorn Road, while
maintaining sufficient water flow to satisfy claims to water by
downstream landowners for irrigation.
Sutton and Joselin Matkins use gardening rakes to scrape a layer of
algae off Sunrise Pond in Elkhorn. The project was part of a larger
effort to restore the pond’s natural ecosystem. Photo courtesy of
Wood River Land Trust
Boettger, executive director of the land trust, explained that a long
section of the creek was diverted decades ago toward its present course
along the western section of Elkhorn Road to establish a straight
channel to downstream water users. The course of the creek was diverted
again in places in the 1980s, when an asphalt bicycle path was built
adjacent to the road, he said.
straight creek bed evolved into a deep, steep-banked channel that could
not support most species of native vegetation and aquatic life because
of its unnatural configuration, he said.
channels that once supported small wetlands and pocket ecosystems dried
up and the fish and wildlife disappeared.
said he and his associates in 1999 determined that the creek ecosystem
would be greatly enhanced if the waterway were returned—at least in
part—to its natural course further away from the road, where native
trees and wildlife once thrived.
we wanted to do is restore the natural processes in the creek," he
land trust workers built a diversion in Elkhorn Creek between Sunrise
Pond and Lane Ranch, which provided a course for some of the water in
the creek to return to its historical course south of the existing main
channel. Water started trickling into the wooded area, and the old
stream bed came to life with new plants and insects.
addition, the land trust—with the cooperation of several public
agencies, project benefactors and local residents—installed two fish
passages to reconnect the creek to the Big Wood River, restored wetlands
along the creek, dredged sediment and cleared mounds of algae from
Sunrise Pond, wrapped large cottonwood trees with wire mesh to protect
them from beavers, and planted native vegetation in areas where it had
died or been replaced with non-natives and weeds.
restoration work in the area is not completed, Frenzl said the creek and
surrounding area is gradually coming alive with native fish and
trout and migrating rainbow trout swim in pools formed by the creek’s
natural contours and the intermittent dams made by beavers that reside
in the area.
Frenzl said the presence of beavers in recent years has made much of the
restoration work easier, helping to maintain some of the natural
processes of the ecosystem. "If it wasn’t for the beavers, it
wouldn’t look this good," he said.
tests of water quality in the stream suggest that water entering Lane
Ranch via the historic creek is at least as clean as that which flows
through the diverted channel.
said he believes that, over time, the water quality—which suffers
mostly from heavy doses of nitrogen and phosphorus from treatments to
the Elkhorn golf course—will continue to improve. As the water is
drawn through cascading pools, beaver dams, and shallow, meandering
stream beds, it will be filtered naturally, with impurities settling to
a win-win situation for everybody, including the beavers," he said.