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Deer Creek—Rising From the Ashes
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Tuesday, July 26, 2016
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Chris Leman stopped abruptly as he gazed at a trail that had just been roughed in along Deer Creek.

A year ago he had been forced to stop at this very spot—prevented from going further because torrential rains had washed out the Deer Creek Road, leaving the Ketchum mountain biker standing on the edge of a 12-foot precipice.

“Over the next 50 years this creek will probably go back and forth here a number of times,” offered  John Kurtz, outdoor recreation planner for the Bureau of Land Management, as he looked at the creek coursing through dusty grey and tan rock and sand dumped in the blowout .

Three years after the Beaver Creek Fire, several 12-person Idaho Conservation Corps and BLM Youth Corps trail crews are in Deer Creek building 22 miles of hiking and biking trails with help of Pulaski s and 12-foot iron rods that they use to budge big rocks from the ground.

The lion’s share of the work should be completed within the month, said Zach Poff, who is with the Ketchum Ranger District.

Road builders plan to build a new section of road just east of the North Fork of Deer Creek in October.

And Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson and his staff plan on designating new dispersed camping sites in the next few weeks.

Leman, Blaine County Commissioner Angenie McCleary and 5B Restoration Coalition Founder Lynn Campion were among a dozen people who ventured into the area this past week to see what’s been done to reopen the area to the public.

Deer Creek was among the hardest areas hit by the 2013 fire and, consequently, it has taken the longest to rehabilitate.

Locating new spots for dispersed camping is challenging given the canyon’s topography, noted Kurtz. But it’s vital as hunting season looms.

“We get calls all the time from people asking us where they can camp around Hailey. And right now we’re telling people there’s nothing between Stanton Crossing and Trail Creek,” he said.

The 1.5- mile-long road reconstruction project will be built on a hillside that currently boasts sego lilies, mullein, tumble mustard and a handful of hollyhocks that are starting to bud out.

The road construction project elicited a lot of debate this past year. In the end, restoring the wetlands on behalf of fish and wildlife trumped concerns about a road cut across the hill above.

But the location of the road on the hillside was lowered to mitigate concerns about its visual impact, Poff said. A rock wall and plantings will help it blend into the surroundings.

“Even the language in the mountain overlay district recognizes the importance of riparian areas, noted McCleary.

Planners decided to put a 16-foot bottomless culvert, rather than a bridge, over North Fork Deer Creek. The culvert won’t present a barrier to the fish.

“The North Fork of Deer Creek drainage is not completely healed so we will probably put an overflow on each side in case we get another rain event that brings more mud down,” Poff added.

Today Blaine County Commissioners will vote on the final draft that would free a half-million dollars from the Land, Water and Wildlife Levy to aid with the restoration of upland vegetation and the riparian area. The vote will be taken at 1:30 p.m. today—Tuesday, July 25--at the old County Courthouse in Hailey.

Among the projects slated: planting of white bark pine in the upper reaches of Deer Creek.

“What’s amazing about this project is the level of analyses because of all the different groups working with it,” said noted Dani Mazzotta, Central Idaho director for the Idaho Conservation League. “And the levy is key in making restoraton happen.”

The North Fork of Deer Creek parking area will probably resemble the Greenhorn Gulch parking area with a pull-through for horse trailers, Poff said. Horse users will be encouraged to park there, rather than the end of Deer Creek where parking will be tighter.

Along Deer Creek, which was overrun by mud, the beaver are doing their part to help retain groundwater in the system, said Erika Phillips, aquatics biologist for the Ketchum Ranger District. And nature is at work, as well, noted Mazzotta.

“Nature has done this beautiful log jam for us,” she said, pointing to a small log jam that was slowing the creek down. “We’re already seeing wildlife using it,” she said.

As if on cue, a chipmunk ran across the log.

“We will try to replicate it with additional log jams upstream.”

Nelson said the work that’s been done wouldn’t have been possible without the support of numerous agencies, which pooled money and resources. Among them: The National Forest Foundation, 5B Restoration Coalition, Blaine County Recreation District and Trout Unlimited.

The National Forest Foundation, for instance, was able to provide matching funds that enabled the ranger district to get federal funds for the restoration, said National Forest Foundation spokesperson Karen DiBari.

Nancy Humphrey looked around as the narrow canyon opened up to offer a view of rock outcroppings on the steep hillsides.

“Just look at the hollyhock,” she said. “This is fabulous.”

POSTSCRIPT: Blaine County Commissioners approved the Deer Creek Restoration Project through the Land, Water & Wildlife Program funding Tuesday afternoon.

 

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