Friday, June 25, 2010

Moving the river

Ketchum Ranger District seeking approval for stream restoration

Express Staff Writer

Warm Springs Creek, shown near the site of a former Civilian Conservation Corps campsite, may be rerouted to protect Warm Springs Road near Ketchum. Though rivers naturally shift course over time, staff of the Ketchum Ranger District believe some areas, including this one, may have been artificially rerouted. Photo by David N. Seelig

The course of the Big Wood River has changed naturally over time, but staff at the Sawtooth National Forest believe some of the changes are man-made.

"You see this here?" asked Dan Kenney, fisheries biologist at the Ketchum Ranger District, pointing to a satellite image of Warm Springs Creek near the mouth of Bassett Gulch, west of Ketchum. He indicated an area where the creek butts up against Warm Springs Road, where, he said, the creek may have been shifted.

The creek would have been moved to build a raised access road to a mill that processed lead and silver ore. The causeway is no longer open to motorized use, and Kenney said he hopes to breach it, rerouting the stream underneath.

Moving the stream channel would protect Warm Springs Road from erosion and allow the ranger district to improve fish habitat.

Rerouting the stream could prove tricky in this area, as the creek is bordered on the north side by private property. While the riverbed is federal land, any impact on private land must be cleared with the landowners.

Kenney said he doesn't intend to shift the creek off private property.

"Nobody's going to take away anybody's creek," he said.

The restoration plan includes another project on Warm Springs Road, farther downstream. There, Warm Springs Creek follows the road even closer, and Kenney said he suspects the stream was rerouted in the late 1930s, when a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was erected there.

Bret Guisto, heritage program manager with the Sawtooth National Forest, said none of the CCC's structures are still standing.

"Usually the CCC tore down everything when they moved out," he said.

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All that remains of the camp are a few concrete foundations. Still, as stream restoration moves forward, forest archaeologists will need to take a closer look at the site.

"Any project like this that comes up, we evaluate," Guisto said.

The district's proposal includes an interpretive trail or kiosk where visitors can learn more about the CCC and its history in the Wood River Valley.

While Kenney said he'd like to know if the stream has been shifted with the camp's construction, restoring the creek to historical conditions is not the project's main goal.

"If it was moved or not moved, [restoring it is] still a good idea," he said.

The floodplain is wider there than it is near the old mill site, which would allow construction of an additional flood channel as well as ponds and wetlands. The site is completely on federal land.

The Ketchum Ranger District is seeking public comment on the proposals. It will form a preliminary plan with several alternatives that address concerns and evaluate the plan's historical and environmental impacts.

"Obviously, we're going to move a lot of dirt," Kenney said. "While it's unavoidable that there is going to be some disturbance, we'll minimize it."

Kenney said he hopes to speak with some people who may know if the creek had been rerouted during the CCC camp's construction.

Kenney said the district has already received letters from residents and organizations, including the Nez Perce tribe. A few of the comments address the removal of a pedestrian bridge that provides access to the causeway, which is a separate project.

Written comments should be sent to the Ketchum Ranger District, Box 2356, Ketchum, ID 83340, attn. Dan Kenney.

Katherine Wutz:

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