20-02-28 Sun Peak Area 4 Roland WF.jpg

The Sun Peak Preserve project aims to restore a stretch of the Big Wood River, pictured here, to its natural function.

A Ketchum City Council workshop is scheduled for the Limelight Hotel next Wednesday, March 4, at 5 p.m., as part of an ongoing discussion around the proposed Sun Peak Preserve restoration project.

The project, which would restore the Hulen Meadows pond and an adjacent stretch of the Big Wood River north of Ketchum, aims to improve wildlife habitat, reduce flooding and increase kayaking and fly-fishing opportunities.

Currently, a lack of floodplain areas around the river creates a firehose effect under the Sage Road bridge during periods of high runoff. Degraded drop structures have also created unsafe riffle-pool sequences for kayakers and driven away fish, according to Jackson, Wyo.,-based Biota Research and Consulting. A gradually rising river bottom has also increased flooding.

By connecting about four acres of floodplain via culverts and replacing the current basalt drop structures with more evenly spaced boulders, those issues could be mitigated. Diverting the river to its western channel and installing slope-stabilizing infrastructure could also reduce flooding and bank erosion.

“Where are we now, there are obvious issues with river health,” Mayor Neil Bradshaw said. “The current forecast, if no action is taken, is that bank erosion and flooding will continue.”

In addition to installing slope stabilizing infrastructure, adding sediment-storage areas along the river could help combat erosion. The nearby Hulen Meadows pond has experienced similar erosion—becoming, over time, what some residents have likened to a “standing mud pit”—and thus is also addressed in the project proposal.

One key concept of the Sun Peak Preserve would be isolating the river from the Hulen Meadows Pond with a high retaining wall.

Besides excavating around 200 tons of sediment from the pond, other suggested pond improvements include installing a new wildlife viewing platform, adding a boating access point and adding restroom and waste-disposal infrastructure. A new parking area, dock and trail system would all be ADA-compliant, Bradshaw said.

“We need to accommodate all users, whether hikers, fishermen or kayakers,” he said.

Since the proposed Sun Peak preserve area is on federal land managed by the BLM, the land could be transferred to a public entity such as the city of Ketchum or Blaine County at no charge. But it’s unlikely that the BLM would initiate a land transfer if the project doesn’t receive broad public support.

“The first step [on Wednesday] will be agreeing on a common vision for the preserve. Then we can work through the details: What will the ownership structure look like? What are the liabilities?” Bradshaw said. “As a facilitator here, every opinion is valid.”

To access Biota Consulting’s findings on the river and pond areas in question, visit ketchumidaho.org.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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