Colorado Gulch

County crews removed the damaged bridge crossing the Big Wood River at Colorado Gulch in 2018.

A floodplain and stream restoration project could return a 0.75-mile stretch of riverfront within Hailey’s Colorado Gulch Preserve back to its natural state, according to the Wood River Land Trust.

The project—first floated by the Land Trust in 2018 after extensive flooding in 2017—would involve recreating a 1,200-foot-long historic side channel on the east side of the river and removing riprap and road fill to restore floodplain connectivity.

According to Wood River Land Trust Restoration Specialist Ryan Santo, allowing the river to connect to its natural floodplain and side channel would greatly improve wildlife habitat, particularly for rainbow trout.

Currently, the side channel only fills during high-water years, Santo said. (Last year, the Land Trust documented trout spawning in the channel.)

“Even if you have high river flows in the spring with a lot of sediment deposition, side channels provide a nice refuge for fish,” Santo said in a Tuesday interview. “We’d like to have this [side channel] connected to the Big Wood every year, not just during high-water years.”

The project would also address bank loss and flooding, Santo said. Less streambank erosion would mean that a new bridge could go up at Colorado Gulch, replacing the historic bridge wiped out during 2017’s severe floods.

The stream restoration project will go before the Blaine County Commissioners next Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. for review.

In other Land Trust news:

• Updates on the Sun Peak restoration project—proposed for the Hulen Meadows pond and adjacent stretch of the Big Wood River—will likely be shared during an outdoor public meeting in mid-to-late September, Santo said. The project would restore the natural functions and health of a 2,000-foot stretch of the Big Wood River while increasing recreational opportunities in the area. For more information, visit woodriverlandtrust.org.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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