The Wood River Land Trust’s proposed Sun Peak Preserve project—designed to restore the health of the Hulen Meadows pond and adjacent Big Wood River—faced a mix of support and backlash during a Wednesday assembly at the pond north of Ketchum.
Tensions ran high throughout the meeting, which was attended by around 70 Hulen Meadows residents and other stakeholders. A presentation by Land Trust Project Manager Ryan Santo got off to a rocky start as residents, many interrupting Santo, struggled to find middle ground with the Land Trust.
Proposed upgrades for the now-dry pond include excavating around 200 tons of sediment and improving public access by building a new drop-off point, parking area and restroom facilities.
For the river itself, the Land Trust has proposed installing an apex jam to divert the Big Wood to its western channel—infrastructure it says would mitigate flooding along the Wood River Trail and highway. The group also suggested installing large, woody structures and new boulder clusters to reduce the river’s flow rate.
High-flow culverts would also be used to connect around four acres of floodplain habitat, which Santo said would have a positive effect on native flora and fauna.
“With the [restoration work], this area would look more like the gallery behind us,” Santo said, gesturing to the grove of cottonwood trees alongside the highway.
“We have proof that all animals are here,” one resident interjected. “Eagles, moose, elk, they all give birth here,” she said, gesturing to the open grassland along Paintbrush Lane where the crowd had assembled.
“Restore the pond and leave the river alone,” another resident said.
“The Land Trust does what they do,” said yet another man. “We appreciate them—but thank you, goodbye.”
Santo responded that the Land Trust’s goal is to manage the land as a preserve to protect wildlife and fish habitat, while allowing access to all.
“That’s our mission. There are not many areas in the valley where you have ADA accessible amenities, and this is a popular area as it is,” he said.
“No, no! That’s not in your mission statement,” a woman interjected, followed by brief chants of “let us talk.”
Throughout the meeting, residents were particularly vocal about not wanting a parking lot next to the pond, or an influx of visitors due to new recreational facilities.
“People came from other states and littered and defecated on our land this summer. Who’s going to pick up the trash? Who’s going to stop teenagers from partying here at 10 p.m.?” one woman asked.
Others said they were concerned about the cars parked illegally along Paintbrush Lane, an ongoing issue.
Bradshaw said if dedicated parking is provided next to the pond, residents could see fewer cars illegally parked along the road. With the city of Ketchum being the project’s likely sponsor, however, he stressed that he had no agenda one way or the other.
“We’re trying to gauge what the community wants,” he said, then took a poll to see who in the crowd did not want to see the Hulen Meadows pond restored.
No hands went up.
Main concerns expressed in the audience included obstructed views. One resident suggested keeping the existing north parking lot and adding a pedestrian walkway to the pond, an idea that received applause. Others suggested their own ideas of how to engineer the floodplain to mitigate flooding in the spring.
“That’s when it gets a bit dangerous, when we become amateur river engineers,” Bradshaw said. “The river doesn’t know what century it’s in and we can’t predict where the river will go in 100 years—that’s why we have [Biota] on board as consultants.”
The mayor encouraged residents to step back for a moment and imagine what a future Sun Peak Preserve could look like, pointing out that many Ketchum residents had been at first opposed to building a town square—which now functions as a gathering center and occasional performance venue.
“That’s an example of what can happen when we take a little risk as a community,” he said. “Of course, there are going to be bumps along the road, but I want people to take some time to reflect and think about providing access to disabled veterans, kids and families—to open their minds to something that would create more laughter, fun in the community.”
Hulen Meadows residents Jim Jaquet and Marc Longley built on Bradshaw’s comment.
“My kids and grandkids like to use the pond to paddleboard and enjoy the water,” Jaquet said. “One of the things people here need to understand is that most people parking illegally on the road are dropping off coolers, chairs, kayaks. We certainly need a drop-off point for people who bring their own equipment.”
Longley said Wednesday’s turnout only represented about 10 percent of project stakeholders.
“We’re not thinking about the pond users that come from Twin Falls, other communities. They don’t have a voice right now,” he said.
He also encouraged meeting attendees to think about what the pond will look like decades from now.
“I would like to see kids playing down here, using the land.”