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BSOA project seeks to restore West Fork, Little Coyote Pond

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The Little Coyote Pond sits between the Big Sky Resort Golf Course and the Big Sky Community Park. PHOTO BY LEONORA WILLETT

By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR

BIG SKY – Big Sky’s largest homeowners association is working on a project to restore the West Fork of the Gallatin River and Little Coyote Pond in Big Sky.

The goals of the project, led by Big Sky Owners Association, include restoring Little Coyote Pond, enhancing the fishery and improving recreational access and opportunities around the pond. BSOA has raised some of the funding needed for the project and is now seeking contractors to complete the work for a vision seven years in the making.

“It’s a great project,” said Suzan Scott, executive director of BSOA. “It’s good for the community. It’s something that the BSOA is doing for not only the membership but certainly the community and visitors alike.”

The project includes work to take the Little Coyote Pond off stream of the West Fork of the Gallatin River, to dredge the pond, to deepen the main channel of the Gallatin River to allow better fish spawning access and to landscape areas around the pond. In addition to the restoration work, BOSA also intends to enhance recreational uses of the pond by building better access to the water, a beach, a dock and creating new parking and picnic areas. 

After the Montana Department of Environmental Quality made a preliminary finding in June that the middle segment of the Gallatin River is impaired by algal blooms, local organizations like the Gallatin River Task Force are emphasizing the importance of this kind of restoration work.

“Overall, I think the project is a great project and the West Fork is impaired for nutrients meaning it’s not meeting state water quality standards,” said Chief Executive and Science Officer with the task force, Kristin Gardner. “This work will help reduce nutrients and improve the health of the river.”

Gardner added that taking the pond off the mainstream of the West Fork will benefit the fishery with free-flowing water instead of the water stagnating and warming in the pond.

For now, Gardner emphasized the importance of this project as just one part of a much larger effort.

“There’s really a need to take a step back and do a whole major planning process on the West Fork and this is one piece of the puzzle,” she said. “We’re grateful for the BSOA taking leadership on this, but there’s a lot more work to be done, I think, to get the river where it needs to be.”

A conceptual rendering of the Little Coyote Pond and West Fork River Restoration Project. GRAPHIC COURTESY OF BSOA

In total, the project as proposed will cost $1.5 million with funding from the Big Sky Resort Area District, BSOA reserves and grants from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. At a June 9 meeting, the BSRAD board voted to fund the project for $262,000, half of its $524,000 fiscal year 2023 request.

The vote to award half of the request was preceded by a lengthy discussion where board members voiced concerns about the recreational aspects of the project.

“Nobody comes to Big Sky to play on the beach,” said board Secretary and Treasurer Steve Johnson at the meeting, “and encouraging children to swim in that water, which is risky at best for pollutants like giardia bacteria and so forth; If I were a parent, I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with it.”

Scott said BSOA is aware of concerns about water quality and will not encourage anything that would be dangerous to the public.

BSOA has also received a $42,000 Community Pond Program Grant from FWP, an award focused on enhancing fishing opportunities in Montana communities.

Michelle McGree, Future Fisheries coordinator at FWP, said this project aligns with FWP’s mission.

“This project is a great example of improving fish populations and stream function while also improving recreational opportunities and quality of life for Montanans and visitors,” she said.

Scott said BSOA intends to apply for a Future Fisheries Improvement Program grant from FWP. The homeowners association has also created a 501c3 for community projects and fundraising.

BSOA is working with Bozeman based WGM Group to engineer the project. In the first bidding process for construction which opened on April 29 and closed on June 2, no bids were received. Scott said she is currently working with a couple contractors and with WGM to figure out timelines. Originally, construction for this project was projected to start this October, but Scott said that will have to be delayed if contractors aren’t secured.

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