BILLINGS — At Lake Elmo State Park in Billings, the water level will start to be pulled back on Sept. 1 to kill invasive Asian clams, said Mike Ruggles, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region Five manager on Wednesday.
The plan is to keep the lake full enough to still provide water for irrigation downstream until Oct. 15, Ruggles said. Then the remaining water will be pumped out.
The water to the man-made lake will be turned back on April 15, Ruggles said.
Lake Elmo is the only place in the state that has the invasive clams. They were first detected in the water in 2019 and likely brought there by irresponsible pet aquarium dumping, or they could have hitched a ride on someone's water gear, Ruggles said.
Without water, the clams will starve and die in the cold temperaturers over the winter and hopefully be eradicated from the lake. The Asian clam is not native to North America and is found in waterways all across the country, particularly in the eastern half of the U.S., according to the United States Geological Survey.
When they are young, the clams are just larger than a grain of sand and can clog pipes and irrigation equipment, Ruggles said.
Once the water is out of the lake, construction crews can start work on improving park amenities, worth $550,000, Ruggles said.
“We have met our full look for money that we needed to complete what was designed and on the table. The next step after this will be getting into the bidding process," Ruggles said.
Ruggles said the project was originally kicked off with a donation from American Fishing Tackle Company of Kalispell. Other fishing groups donated money, including Pike Masters and Walleyes Unlimited. Other portions of the cost came from the FWP budget, Montana Department of Natural Resource Conservation budget and federal matching grants.
During the public comment period on the project, Ruggles said the most requested thing was to update the walking path bordering Lake Elmo Drive on the east side of the lake.
“It’s pretty skinny. It’s fairly rocky. There’s places where if you’ve got bad knees or other issues like a wheelchair, it’s not accessible at all," Ruggles said.
Ruggles said the section of walkway is the "number one project". He added the new path will be eight feet wide and the underwater fish habitat will be improved.
"Fish habitat built in on the substrate. We'll improve the fishery's value there. We'll improve the access for any of the users year round. There's enough space for people to get away from power lines so they are not casting their bobbers up into the power lines. So that's the number one amenity," Ruggles said.
The section of walkway also has the headgate for water to exit the lake. Ruggles said the headgate will be reconstructed and may cut off the full loop of the lake at some points during the construction.
Another aspect of the project will be to add "fishing nodes" to the shoreline just north of the previously mentioned walkway. The shoreline will be reconstructed to allow a more wavy pattern, thereby providing more isolated spots for groups to gather.
Click here to view a map of the new construction. Note items labeled "Alt" may not be constructed, depending on how construction bidding shakes out, Ruggles said.
While the lake is dry, Ruggles said the wildlife department intends to keep access to the lake bed open to the public. He asked that people not bring metal detectors to Lake Elmo while it is dry.
It is illegal to use a metal detector, unless authorized, in a Montana State Park.
“I know there’s desire. They know where grandma’s ring is at, or mom’s ring, their necklace from high school, but they won’t be allowed to do any digging out there or any metal detecting. We’ll most likely allow access out there unless it becomes a major problem. It’s nice that people are picking up some of the garbage that’s truly garbage and helping us clean that off," Ruggles said.