HELENA — Prickly Pear Land Trust (PPLT) has completed their reactivation of Sevenmile Creek Restoration Project near Birdseye Rd.
An excavator hammered it’s way through the frozen ground at the site on Thursday morning. A modest group of individuals that have worked on and supported the project came to see the metal giant break apart the small bit earth holding back the creek from flowing into its new 2,500 foot stream bed.
“It’s so awesome to be here looking at the final stream reach for this project,” said PPLT Executive Director Mary Hollow. “When Prickly Pear acquired this property we ended up with the senior most significant water right, and really not just an opportunity but and obligation to do what was right and necessary by the stream.”
Prickly Pear Land Trust acquired a 358-acre property along Sevenmile Creek in 2016. Thursday’s event marks the culminations of about five years of work getting the stream back to its original floodplain.
Before coming into the hands of PPLT, the Sevenmile Creek property was used for agriculture. Previous landowners had dug a practical channel for irrigation. This restoration will help return the area to a more natural state and habitat for wildlife.
“We’ve basically raised that whole bed elevation of the stream, the water table that comes up with it and the wetland hydrology that comes with that is now going to be supported by this newly constructed flood plain,” said Mike Sanctuary with Confluence Consulting.
Confluence worked with PPLT on designing a more natural channel, built to include meanders and pools.
Waterway restoration is a long endeavor for any project and PPLT say the restoration was only possible thanks to their partners and the community’s support.
“It’s really exciting,” said PPLT Program and Trails Director Nate Kopp. “We’ve had so many good partners on this but to actually see it start to finish and see the water flow for the first time. It’s really an exciting day today.”
The next steps will be waiting and seeing how vegetation takes hold in the coming years.
Last year high winds blew the Birdseye Fire east into the Helena Valley. Much of what burned was on the Sevenmile property.
The fire destroyed vegetation on about 330 acres, which had some benefits. Because the fire destroyed the vegetation they were able to establish native plantlife in the grassland areas.
Kopp says it will still be many years before the area is fully restored. Once it is, PPLT hopes it will provide a great area for recreation such as hiking and fishing.
More information about the Sevenmile Creek Restoration Project can be found here.