Members of the Ketchum City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission gave unanimous approval last week to an early outline of some of the work to be done at the recently purchased 65-acre Warm Springs Preserve northwest of downtown.
In a joint meeting, the two panels approved work proposed by landscape architecture firm Superbloom and consultant Rio Applied Science and Engineering, setting the stage for a draft budget to be drawn up before the next meeting.
The city is establishing the preserve as a public park and natural area.
Council members and P&Z commissioners were asked to give feedback on the site’s entry and parking area, creek restoration and access, and southern floodplain.
“This was a golf course (among other things),” P&Z Chairman Neil Morrow said. “The dirt has been moved around here more than once. I think this is nice because it’s getting back to the original state of the [land].”
Superbloom is planning to construct three different viewing areas along Warm Springs Creek for the public to use. Rob Richardson of Rio Applied Sciences and Engineering said that encouraging people to view the waterway from specific spots preserves the health of the bank elsewhere.
Councilwoman Amanda Breen said she is in favor of the presented parking layout and plans that limit access on the floodplain to certain areas but wants messaging of the city’s intent to be clearer.
“We need to get the message across that we’re trying to restore this [area], not engineer it,” she said.
P&Z Commissioner Spencer Cordovano asked, “If this is a preserve, I’m not sure how much maintenance needs to go into it. Are these paths going to need to be mowed?”
Breen asked if the possibility of reducing non-native grasses in the open space had been considered at all. Diane Lipovsky of Superbloom said it is still to be determined whether that will be a part of the plan or not. City Administrator Jade Riley mentioned that the city has looked into replacing the Kentucky bluegrass at the preserve with a more water-efficient option, such as clover.
P&Z Commissioner Tim Carver said that he is appreciative of the public’s work throughout this process.
“I’m pleased to see that the stream restoration and habitat restoration are the [biggest] focuses of this project,” he said.
Morrow said he believes the fairway leading up to the mountain side of the preserve is at great risk for a fire.
“If someone dropped a cigarette back there, the whole mountain would go up in flames,” he said. “So, if we could work with the Bureau of Land Management to get some of that [dead brush] out of there, that would be great.”
Mayor Neil Bradshaw said it is actually U.S. Forest Service land, but that the point is still a good one.
Superbloom held a number of public open houses over the course of the fall. Lipovsky summarized the consensus opinions among responders.
“We got over 200 comments in just the last session, but, in general, folks really want to protect the existing ecosystem and habitats,” Lipovsky said. “There is a strong desire to pave and expand the parking lot for overflow parking … folks would really like to see improved access points on both the Norwegian Woods side and the southeast side of the property.”
Mentions of ADA accessibility, openness for pets and proper waste management were also common, she said.
Riley spoke to the funding of the projects at the site, which was purchased earlier this year with public donations.
“There is a reason we are partnering. Stream restoration [is not our area of expertise],” he said. “Going into the project, we [talked] with the Wood River Land Trust [about] spending about $1 million [of the donations] for the upper decks of improvement. Recommissioning the irrigation system, parking and those type of areas would be a city expense, and then the Land Trust feels like they have some potential donors to bring to bear for the creek and some of the flood area.”
Riley said he hesitates to put out a projected total because that is the next step in the project: creating a budget.
“We will come back to you with [an amount of money] from the Land Trust, an [amount] from the city, and a list of value engineering items that we know will be needed as part of the bid package,” he said.
Rio ASE will begin collecting data from the preserve this year. It will go through an exhaustive design process, which is scheduled to be completed late next year. Restoration is expected to begin in 2024.
Success in stream and floodplain restoration will be judged based on a couple of metrics, according to Lipovsky. Goals are to reduce the gallons of water used per acre, increase acres of floodplain connectivity and the number, size and depth of pools, which should, in turn, lead to more flora and fauna. Efforts also aim to reduce water speed in the creek and limit bank erosion, which should lessen the threat of flooding.
The preserve’s current high-water usage is another area officials hope to address. Richardson noted that the city’s Atkinson Park ball fields, which are 9.5 acres compared to the preserve’s 10.5 acres of irrigated land, only use about half as much water.
Ketchum resident Clare Swanger spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. As a professional dog trainer, she said she sees dogs every month that have gone through a traumatic interaction with another dog at an off-leash park. She asked for an on-leash dog area.
“It is increasingly difficult in this area to find places where you can walk and hike and not be encountered with jumping dogs,” she said.
Some features are bound by the deed to be built in the preserve. Floodplain restoration, a storage building, 24 parking stalls, a public bathroom, a pump house, and a 10-foot-wide pedestrian trail for walking and skiing are all required by the original deal. Other components that the community has committed to building are informal gathering spaces like picnic tables and an area for off-leash dog access.
Lipovsky said some citizens have expressed concern that 24 parking spots isn’t enough. She said that they cannot add more per the language of the deed.
The city of Ketchum raised $9 million to purchase the land (at a cost of $8 million) and to finance a new irrigation system and some improvements ($1 million) through more than 1,000 community donations. The site was sold at discount by Sun Valley developer Bob Brennan. ￼