The Wood River Land Trust usually does good things, preserving natural spaces for beauty and human enjoyment. But it has gone “around the bend” with the Hulen Meadows pond, which it misleadingly calls the “Sun Peak Preserve.” (Sun Peak is 1 mile to the south.) This was evident at the Oct. 21 meeting regarding the pond’s future, facilitated by Ketchum’s mayor.
Here’s some background. The “pond” is an invention. It began as an excavation pit dug on public land at the mouth of Hulen Meadows in 1990 when the Department of Transportation needed cobble to realign the road to the north. Soon, a tar production plant was added to the site. In return for two noisy, dirty years for Hulen Meadows, the county and DOT filled the pit with water, connected it to the river, added plantings and irrigation and created the public amenity of a pond. They did good. It was beloved by many in the valley, who for the next 25 years came with their dogs and kids, kayaks, float tubes and fishing poles.
Gradually, the pond filled with sediment, as expected. The county had signed an agreement, and Commissioner Len Harlig created a budget item to periodically dredge the pond. When the time came 20 years later, with three of four permits in hand for dredging, the county reneged. Today, the excavation pit is dry and ugly, filled with piles of gravel.
Many in the community hoped the pond would be restored, and the Land Trust appeared to come to the rescue. Wrong! Over the past several years, it has produced different, often contradictory, plans for restoration, each with expensive and unnecessary aspects. The most imaginative was a river park with a 35-car parking area at the edge of the pond’s north side, a fishing pier far from the best fishing and a kayak area below the pier (watch out for that hook!), among other strange ideas. The consultant’s design cost thousands of dollars and the park itself would run to hundreds of thousands.
Last spring, the Land Trust produced a more reasonable plan, this time focused on “river health.” It included handicapped access, a picnic table and a public toilet. So far, so good. But there were uncertainties. 1) Could the Land Trust be trusted to pursue the simplest, least intrusive scenario? 2) Would it finally get rid of a 35-car parking lot in the small “preserve” area?
The answer was no. Last week it produced yet another plan focused on “flood plain” health. The parking lot was now on the south side of the pond—elk, badger, deer and fox territory—with the entrance/exit deep into access to Hulen Meadows and cutting across traffic from several hundred Hulen Meadows residents.
Years ago, all the Land Trust had to do to restore the pond was remove the sediment and reconnect the pit to the Big Wood, a relatively minimal undertaking. But it took the path of refusing simple restoration until its other design requirements were met. At this point, necessary agency approvals would take three to four years for the costly restoration. All along, the Land Trust has emphasized that no plan is foolproof since “we can never predict what a river will do.”
It is time, finally, to give up on restoration, save lots of money and time, and expect the Land Trust to get on with simply resurrecting the floodplain.
Note: Mayor Neil Bradshaw described his role as an unbiased facilitator to hear attendees’ ideas. That was hard to believe as he took a lot of other peoples’ airtime to defend the Land Trust plan.
Jima Rice is a resident of Hulen Meadows.