MISSOULA — You may be busy this week raking leaves off the yard before the snow flies.
But for crews working on the historic removal of the old Rattlesnake Dam, now's the time to finish planting trees whose leaves will provide important habitat restoration.
It was just over three years ago we gathered on the banks of Rattlesnake Creek as the City of Missoula announced plans to tear out the dam, the first big project launched after the takeover of Mountain Water.
Meetings and planning followed and it was mid-August when the dam was demolished in a couple of hours. Since then, it's the labor-intensive work of revegetation.
“Yeah, we're out here filling up, backfilling our stream banks. We got 10,000 willow cuttings, we put in fill in dirt over top of them so they're buried and we got 6000 container plants that have already gone in the ground or going in the ground," explained Trout Unlimited project manager Rob Roberts. "So we’re feeling really good about our revegetation and we got some moisture. It's gonna help everything lock it together.”
It's pretty remarkable to see the changes that have taken place over the past three years. Not only was there the dam, but of course the old reservoir site. Now it's home to thousands of trees and other plantings to make for better fish and wildlife habitat.
“We've had more than 25 different entities support this project from funders to partners to supporters. We've had 190 volunteers who have been out on site in the last month-and-a-half, put plants in the ground, cutting willows," Roberts said.
Elsewhere, everything from aspens, to cottonwoods, dogwoods and shrubs are being planted. With "woody debris" that will protect the area and provide more habitat during high water. A diverse ecosystem resulting from a diversity of community support..
“Really, there's too many people to name, and too many entities to mention that have been part of the project. But you know, City of Missoula, Trout Unlimited, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. So many private businesses, local supporters, nonprofit organizations, you name it. You know everyone has been out here to help.”
There is already evidence of cutthroat and rainbow trout starting to migrate into the wilderness -- and restoration of another critical piece of the Clark Fork watershed.
“You know whether it's Rattlesnake or all these tributaries around downtown," Roberts said. "They really are sort of the factories for the fish in the main river.”
Roberts said that planting work should wrap up this week, but the site will continue to be monitored and managed in the seasons to come.