A public workshop on a proposed north-valley preserve drew nearly 90 residents to the Limelight Hotel on Wednesday, inviting those present to comment on the project after a slideshow presentation by Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw.
As it stands, the Sun Peak Preserve project intends to improve the health of the Big Wood River east of Hulen Meadows subdivision, prevent the adjacent pond from filling with sediment, restore floodplain habitat and increase local recreational opportunities.
While a detailed layout of the Sun Peak Preserve has yet to be nailed down, several improvements have been laid out by Jackson, Wyo.,-based Biota Research and Consulting. For the stretch of river directly east of Hulen Meadows, suggested upgrades from Biota have included diverting it to its western channel, designating new sediment storage and bank stabilization areas and replacing basalt drop structures with more natural boulder clusters.
The boulders would create gentler and more even riffle-pool sequences over a longer stretch of river, according to Biota, improving safety for kayakers and fishermen.
“These boulders would better mimic the natural river process, helping to attract more fish,” Bradshaw said Wednesday.
Another project objective is connecting about four acres of floodplain habitat using under-the-road culverts. The newly created floodplain area would support native flora and fauna and prevent river spillage onto the nearby bike path, Bradshaw said, lessening the bottleneck effect under Sage Road during snowmelt periods.
“The [Sage Road] bridge acts as a firehouse by concentrating water in one place, which has led to unhealthy erosion and downstream flooding,” he said.
Bradshaw also outlined proposed changes to the Hulen Meadows pond, which has collected tons of cobble and debris from the Big Wood River over its 40-year lifespan. By sealing off the pond from the river with a retaining wall and excavating sediment in one swoop, he said, there would be little need to dredge it in the future.
Most participants on Wednesday appeared to support both the river and pond projects, envisioning the Sun Peak Preserve as a family-friendly area. Slightly different visions of the final project were entertained, however, with three proposed pond upgrades—new restroom facilities, expanded parking areas and a new ADA-accessible dock—the most controversial.
“We don’t need a swimming pool in our backyards. We just want a natural pond,” Hulen Meadows homeowner Jima Rice said.
Hulen Meadows resident Tiffany Munn said moving park facilities to the east side of the Big Wood could reduce potential conflict between homeowners and recreationists.
“Putting parking on the east side could be a big win-win, a big plus for everyone,” she said.
Scott Boettger, executive director of the Wood River Land Trust, said a publicly supported preserve will involve compromise.
“Our goal is not only protecting and restoring the site, but also making it available for people of all ages to use and enjoy,” he said.
Community School student Anhwei Kirk, an avid kayaker, pointed out that improving river and pond health could provide benefits for young recreationists for decades to come.
“This is one of the few recreational access points in the community. Not having to drive three hours to reach a safe paddling spot, and having this space to safely practice our skills, would really benefit the youth,” she said.
Currently, the Wood River Land Trust is the most likely candidate to sponsor the restoration of both the Hulen Meadows pond and adjacent 2,000-foot span of the Big Wood River. Since the proposed preserve area is on federal BLM-managed land, either the Land Trust or a public entity like the city of Ketchum or Blaine County could take over ownership. Only a public entity could obtain the land free of charge, making Ketchum a logical choice.
BLM Realty Specialist Kasey Prestwich said the decision for land transfer would be made based on the Sun Peak Preserve’s adherence to the National Environmental Policy Act.
“Our measuring stick is, can we do this lawfully?” Prestwich said.
Throughout the evening, Bradshaw aimed to counter misinformation about the project.
“This is not going to be a slip-and-slide, nor is it going to involve [Hulen Meadows] annexation,” he said. “It’s important that we have the correct information out there, and all voices are heard.”