Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Sun Peak Preserve Proposal Garners Praise, Pushback
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Ryan Santo said the Sun Peak Preserve project would fulfill the Wood River Land Trust’s three-prong mission of restoring the Big Wood River, enhancing wildlife habitat and providing recreational access.
   
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Wood River Land Trust’s Ryan Santo took his place on the bank of what was the Hulen Meadows Pond,  prepared to share the Land Trust’s plan to restore it and provide other area amenities.

But before he could get started talking about plans to restore a dysfunctional flood plain and enhance the area’s recreational value, some of Hulen Meadows’ residents arrived prepared for battle.

Renata and Fred Beguin, whose home overlooks the sagebrush-covered flat arrived armed with flyers headlined “Protect Our Community and Oppose the Destruction of This Important Environmental Space.”

 
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The Hulen Meadows Pond has dried up, thanks in part to sediment that has filled in.
 

“We have proof that animals are here. Eagles, moose, elk—they all give birth here,” Renata Beguin said.

Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw told the 80 people who assembled for last week’s open house that the proposal wasn’t a done deal but “another step on our journey to finding something the community can support.”

He noted that all of those assembled showed by a display of hands that they wanted to see the pond restored.

“Wood River Land Trust is trying to create an amenity for the community. If we don’t want it, it won’t happen. But, so far, there’s been strong support for improving the river and pond. We want to see what the community wants to do.

 
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Renata Beguin makes her case with Ryan Santo, project manager for the Wood River Land Trust.
 

“The cost of doing nothing is this,” he said, gesturing towards the empty, cracked and dry pond bed behind him.

The Sun Peak Preserve, as it’s being called, would reconnect the flood plain on the north side of Sage Road—the road leading into Hulen Meadows, the WRLT’s project coordinator Ryan Santo told those assembled at the pond’s edge.

Engineers would excavate 200 tons of sediment that has filled up in the pond over the years. They would divert the Big Wood River to its western channel and install culverts underneath Sage Road to allow the sagebrush-covered ground north of the pond to serve as a flood plain.

Over time, 4.5 acres of floodplain habitat would be restored, promoting the growth of riparian species attractive to big game species and birds and improving fish habitat by creating pools. The area would take on the look of the nearby cottonwoods along the Big Wood River between the Sun Peak picnic ground and Hulen Meadows Pond, he said.

 
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This is one of two proposals that the Wood River Land Trust unveiled at last week’s open house.
 

In addition to restoring the flood plain and wildlife habitat, Santos said the WRLT wants to fulfill its mission of providing recreational access by building an ADA-accessible restroom, picnic shelter and viewing platform that would extend over the pond on the south side of the pond.

A parking lot near the picnic shelter would provide parking for 25 cars, alleviating the temptation to park along Paintbrush Lane where illegal parking could pose a safety problem.

“We’re trying to enhance this whole area,” Santo said.

There are few other safe places in the Wood River Valley for those using paddleboards and kayaks, especially for those with disabilities, Santo said. River banks are too steep and precarious for those with mobility issues, and debris in the river makes it dangerous for even expert kayakers.

 
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This shows what picnic shelters and the viewing platform might look like.
 

An enhanced recreational site at Hulen Meadows Pond would allow a safe place for people with disabilities and families with children. And the flat terrain would allow for accessible trails for those with mobility issues, added Kelly Eisenbarger of Higher Ground.

“We want to see the environment protected here,” she added. “We want people to be able to enjoy the environment here for years to come.”

Residents posed questions and offered suggestions.

Hulen Meadows resident Jima Rice questioned the viability of the restoration proposal, noting that the sediment from the pond was excavated in 1992 and 1994 but the pond filled up again within two years. She added she would like to see the area restored to what it looked like before the pond was created during a project to extract highway fill in the 1980s.

Santo responded that the plan by Biota Engineering, which helped craft a master plan for the Big Wood River, is different from previous plans. It’s needed, he added, because increasing velocity in the river is creating mounting erosion that could increase flooding for those downstream.

Incoming sediment can be blocked and stored, he added.

A couple neighborhood residents complained about the human feces and toilet paper they found on site  as the pond received heightened use from out-of-town visitors using it during a pandemic summer. One woman suggested that the WRLT not build a restroom on site but have people go across the river to use the restroom at Sun Peak picnic ground, instead.

But Bradshaw said he doubted people using the pond would walk that far. “We’ve seen examples where people have not taken that walk,” he said.

Jeff Burley, director of Adaptive Sports for Higher Ground, said that many of those he takes fishing are older and cannot walk far. And some clients need ready access to restrooms.

“This is one of the best places we have to have something like this. It would be beneficial to people with disabilities who don’t have a lot of other options,” he added.

A few participants suggested the parking lot and other amenities be built on the Sage Road side of the pond. But Santo said the flooding that would occur there in early season makes that unworkable.

Another resident suggested building just three ADA parking spaces on the south side of the pond and having able bodied walk a path from the existing parking lot on the north side of Sage Road. Another suggested widening Paintbrush Lane and letting people park alongside it.

Bradshaw indicated that both suggestions could be considered.

Some Hulen Meadows residents seemed unconvinced.

“We appreciate (the Land Trust),” said Terry Friedlander. “But thank you, goodbye.”

But others voiced support for enhancing the area.

Jim Jaquet said his children and grandchildren like to paddleboard and enjoy the other water amenities the pond offers.

“One thing people here need to understand is that most people parking illegally on the road are dropping off coolers, chairs, kayaks. We need a drop-off point for people who bring their own equipment,” he said.

“It’s a great community asset. Summers are getting hotter and it’s delightful to cool off in the pond by swimming and boating,” said Hulen Meadows resident Sarah Michael. “I want to thank you. This is a huge project.”

Marc Longley recounted how many of the Hulen Meadows residents didn’t want the pond in the beginning and now it’s become “our pond.” That said, he added, Hulen Meadows make up only 10 percent of those who use it—"the others are not here to speak for it.”

He encouraged those present to envision what the pond would look like decades from now.

“I would like to see kids playing down there, using the land,” he added.

Bradshaw offered a similar perspective. He noted that he thought wildlife would be better off with the restoration and that a small parking lot would cut down on illegal parking along the road. He noted that it’s only natural to fear change and asked those present to remember how people were reluctant to convert a parking lot in the center of Ketchum into a town square. Now, that town square is a cherished place, full of vitality, he added.

Then he appealed to those whose homes overlook the pond.

“No question there will be a little more pavement in your view corridor. The questions is: Are you and maybe 20 others willing to live with that for the good of the community? Our disabled veterans, our grandkids ask you to open your heart. This project is going to create laughter. It’s going to create fun. It’s going to create incredible resources for our community.”

GOT A QUESTION OR COMMENT?

Contact Ryan Santo at rsanto@woodriverlandtrust.org or 208-788-3947.

 

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