Landowners, agencies discuss Ashley Creek restoration

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Mont Peters described a sobering attempt he and his wife made this year to canoe a stretch of Ashley Creek near Smith Lake.

The algae growth was so thick that the only way to navigate through it was to gain transit by pulling on cattails, he said. “There is so much algae you can’t even see the creek.”

More than 40 people gathered Tuesday night at the Smith Valley Grange Hall west of Kalispell to discuss the woes afflicting Ashley Creek and to talk about potential remedies.

The creek winds more than 43 miles from Ashley Lake to the creek’s confluence with the Flathead River. Impacts along its course have included nutrient pollution from farms, lawns and septic systems, sediment from roads, livestock grazing and losses in riparian vegetation, effluent from the Kalispell wastewater treatment facility and more.

The crowd included representatives from several local and state agencies, at least two federal agencies and Susie Turner, director of Kalispell’s Department of Public Works.

Also attending as members of Flathead Lakers were Constanza von der Pahlen, who helped organize the meeting, and Dick Siderius, a landowner along Ashley Creek.

Siderius worked with the River Steward program on a riparian planting and fencing project to improve half a mile of Ashley Creek along his property.

Ashley Creek is considered an impaired stream by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

The department and other agencies report problems that include: water temperature too warm to support the survival and reproduction of native fish species; alteration of streamside vegetation; excessive algae growth tied to nutrients entering the creek; low dissolved oxygen; and, sediment from higher than normal streambank erosion.

The DEQ’s listing of Ashley Creek as an impaired stream can provide an opportunity for property owners along the creek to tap into local and state funding to help make improvements such as tree plantings or fencing, said von der Pahlen.

Samantha Tappenbeck, a resource specialist with Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Montana, asked agency representatives attending the meeting to discuss collaborative programs landowners might investigate.

Those who spoke Tuesday night included: Haily Graf, a conservationist with the Flathead Conservation District; Sean Johnson, district conservationist with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service; Eric Trum, a water-quality specialist with DEQ; and Franz Ingelfinger, a wildlife biologist with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Tappenbeck opened Tuesday night’s meeting by describing the gathering as being “sort of like a handshake,” offering introductions for landowners to agencies that might help them improve the creek through collaboration.

That handshake yielded some response.

Von der Pahlen said Thursday that seven people have asked for a visit to their property or a specific location along the creek.

“So, we are setting up follow-up visits to see what can be done to improve conditions at their site, as long as it helps address the water quality and health of Ashley Creek,” she said. “Getting a few projects on the ground would be a good start.”

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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