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Conservation project aimed at "saving" Hamilton's newest park

Skalkaho Bend Erosion
Skalkaho Bend Park
Posted at 3:14 PM, Mar 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-22 17:25:28-04

HAMILTON — The Bitter Root Water Forum and the City of Hamilton are coming together to stop erosion from ruining the city's newest park.

When the Bitter Root Land Trust handed over the keys to the new Skalkaho Bend Park last year it was already known that "the bend" in the Bitterroot River was going to create problems in the future.

“We had an opportunity here to do something proactive. So rather than waiting and seeing what happened and someone having to drop rock in the bank, we had a chance to do this in a way that brought plants and habitat and still creates the stability for the soils while doing something really great for the park, Bitter Root Water Forum Executive Director Heather Barber explained.

Those plans are being put into action now, as crews for the Bitter Root Water Forum and the city are combining forces to dig a 1,400-foot trench to be planted with three different kinds of willows, providing future armor to stop the erosion of several feet of riverbank each year.

Skalkaho Bend Park
Skalkaho Bend Park in Hamilton

“Not just to be ecologically sound, but to make sure that we didn't limit user access or the viewshed,” Barber said. “Yeah, that's why we're using predominantly willows which have really strong root systems but are very low height at maturity.”

The willows may look small now, but there are actually six feet of roots laying under the soil, and some fencing to keep out deer and moose, giving the plantings a chance to become established.

“It will be enough capacity, enough rooting capacity to support all the shoots and the leaves and a new growth on the top, Bitter Root water Forum board member and hydrologist Ed Snook told MTN News.

The strip of willows will be bordered by two improved walking paths, better access off the park's footbridge, and better bird habitat. Access to the park remains open while this project is underway and the Bitter Root Water Forum is using the project to show people information and explain what's being planned.

“Yeah, it was really important to us and the city to maintain access. The paths are still open even through construction and we want people to come out and enjoy this space,” Barber said. “So, we'll be building footpaths, little boardwalks through the planting so that people can still access and be part of that and really just continue enjoying this park."