Friday, August 14, 2009

River lovers look to fix Hulen Pond

Land Trust eyes restoration of 1.5-mile stretch of Big Wood

Express Staff Writer

Hailey resident Sara Shafer casts a line in Hulen Pond, a popular recreational amenity north of Ketchum. The Wood River Land Trust is looking for a solution to reconnect the Big Wood River to the pond, which is separated from refreshing river flows by a large gravel bar that built up during the 2006 flooding. Photo by

Local water enthusiasts looking to preserve Hulen Pond—a popular summertime attraction for kids in inner tubes and adults in kayaks just north of Ketchum—are literally caught between a rock and a hard place. Actually, millions of rocks, so many that the manmade pond is no longer being fed by the refreshing flows of the adjacent Big Wood River.

Cut off from those flows, the circular body of water, located in one of the river's abandoned oxbows just a few miles north of Ketchum just a stone's throw away from the Hulen Meadows subdivision, is beginning to show the effects. Floating near the center of the pond is a growing mat of aquatic plants that threatens to overtake the warm weather attraction.

The only flows that do reach the pond these days are the result of the anonymous actions of a small group of locals who have worked to keep a small channel connecting the river and the pond across the gravel bar open. Rock-by-rock, these people have kept a trickle of river water flowing into the pond.

Of course, nobody really thinks this is a longterm solution for Hulen Pond, which was excavated in the early 1990s to mitigate for changes in the river resulting from a nearby highway straightening project. Though the pond was built for the utilitarian purpose of collecting sediment washed downstream from the highway work areas, valley residents have become enamored with its recreational amenities.

The pond's separation from the Big Wood really became apparent after the record-setting floods of spring 2006. High flows fed by a big snowpack deposited tons of rock and created the massive gravel bar.

Now Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust is hoping to find a solution that preserves the pond for recreationists while improving fish habitat in the river. A 200-acre parcel of U.S. Bureau of Land Management land borders a 1.5-mile stretch of the Big Wood from the pedestrian bridge at the Lake Creek Trailhead downstream to the Sun Peak picnic area.

In the coming months, an engineering firm from Boise hired by the land trust will be conducting an in-depth study of that stretch of the Big Wood, looking for ways to return the river to a more natural and meandering state. Clark Shafer, the land trust's development associate for the Hulen Pond project, said possible benefits of the restoration work could include reconnecting the river and the pond by excavating the gravel bar.

Shafer said the land trust is working with local kayakers to determine if the restoration work could also include construction of drops and other in-river play features.

"We can have a play wave," he said.

Shafer said the stretch of public river isn't just the playground of Hulen Meadows residents, nor citizens from Ketchum.

"This is everybody's million-dollar riverfront property," he said.

The study will cost $75,000. However, a private donor has offered to pay a 2-to-1 match if the land trust can raise $25,000 in public money.

At the same time, BLM officials are considering an application submitted by Ketchum officials that would give the city a longterm lease on the 200-acre parcel under a "patent agreement." According to Ketchum Parks Superintendent Jen Smith, the city would take over day-to-day management of the recreational area under an indefinite lease period.

The city already manages the Lake Creek and Sun Peak sites under an assistance agreement with the BLM.

Through the Labor Day weekend, Shafer will be giving public tours of the Hulen Pond site every Thursday from 9:30-11 a.m. Anyone interested in the informational walks should contact the land trust at 788-3947.

Jason Kauffman:

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