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Water Wisdom: Upper Deer Creek Facelift

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Erosion along the riverbank at Baetis Alley. PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLATIN RIVER TASK FORCE


Some call it Baetis Alley. Some call it Power Line Meadows. Some know it for the Green Bridge, while others know it for the Deer Creek trailhead.

Anglers, rafters, hikers, and bridge-jumpers alike take advantage of its easy access, but all that use is taking its toll—both on the ecological health of the area and the accompanying recreational experience.

I’m talking about the popular river-access site that stretches from the famous Green Bridge about one mile up-river to the eye-drop parking area adjacent to Highway 191. Collectively known as Baetis Alley by fishing-focused locals, this site is in dire need of rehabilitation and restoration. The Upper Deer Creek Riparian Habitat and Access Restoration project aims to do just that.

Upper Deer Creek will be the second large-scale project (the other is Moose Creek) to restore the ecological health of the river and improve the ease and safety of access along the upper Gallatin corridor. Construction on the project broke ground on Aug. 31 and work should be wrapped up around Halloween. In spring 2021, there will be opportunities for volunteers to replant streamside vegetation.

Ruts caused by vehicle usage at Baetis Alley. PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLATIN RIVER TASK FORCE

The Gallatin River Task Force is overseeing the project in partnership with Montana Trout Unlimited and the Custer Gallatin National Forest. “Healthy watersheds are very important for our communities, our wildlife and our lifestyle here on the Custer Gallatin,” said Wendi Urie, recreation program manager for the Bozeman Ranger District. “In the past, we really haven’t had a focus on these river-access sites. This partnership with the Gallatin River Task Force has allowed us to start looking at the issues and how we can manage them well.”

Better management starts with ecological restoration, the primary goal of the project, and includes access enhancement, like sustainable trails and durable-surface parking areas.

“One way we can practice good river stewardship when we’re going fishing or boating is by parking in designated parking areas or along the road in a designated pull-out,” said Emily O’Connor, conservation project manager for the Gallatin River Task Force. 

Once complete, the Upper Deer Creek project will feature parking areas at the east and west ends of the site. These durable-surface areas will concentrate vehicle impact, allowing vegetation to regrow throughout the project area. 

A map of the restoration project ongoing at Baetis Alley. PHOTO COURTESY OF GALLATIN RIVER TASK FORCE

Currently, rutted double-tracks crisscross the site, which is a mapped wetland with sensitive native plants that are easily destroyed by repeated trampling. Healthy riparian areas are crucial to river health for several reasons. First, they act as natural filtration systems, decreasing the concentration of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus entering the river. Riparian areas also provide crucial wildlife habitat to native mammals, birds and insects. Along the river’s edge, replanted willows will further filter excess nutrients and provide additional habitat and shade that will keep water temperature cooler—the way trout like it.

In addition to the riparian restoration, the project includes a network of sustainable angler trails. These trails will provide access to the river while concentrating foot traffic along designated routes, keeping anglers, boaters and wildlife watchers from eroding streambanks and killing vegetation.

Along the river, a hardened river-access point will serve as a raft put-in and a dedicated kayak launch will further decrease streamside erosion. In addition to the boat launches, an accessible fishing platform will provide a more inclusive recreation experience.

When Upper Deer Creek is complete, it will serve as another model for sustainable recreation in the river corridor. As use increases, we must continue to guard against ecological degradation and these restoration projects are a major part of that effort.

“It’s a special place, and it’s a fragile place,” said Urie. “Balancing how we let people have access to the river with minimizing their impacts to the river is really important.”

David Tucker is the communications manager for the Gallatin River Task Force.

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