A plan was presented to the Hamilton City Committee of the Whole on October 13 to do a major riverbank protection project and parkland enhancement along the river in Skalkaho Bend Park. The Bitter Root Water Forum and the Bitterroot Land Trust have been working with City staff to draw up a plan for riverbank stabilization in the area.
Andrea Price from the BWF said that when they first looked at the parkland they noticed that the riverbank was eroding and was headed towards a ditch on the property.
“We also noticed that it lacked vegetation,” she said, “We like to see willows and cottonwoods growing next to the river like in River Park.” She said the park is mostly grassland which doesn’t make good habitat for birds, wildlife or fish. She stated that over the past few decades bank erosion had encroached five feet per year and every five years it would take an acre of parkland.
Price said a team of scientists found that, given the rate of erosion and the lack of habitat, the erosion could reach the ditch in 30 years.
The plan is to dig out a shallow depression parallel to the river and plant 10,000 willows that could grow up to 10 feet tall. Some trees would also be planted, and irrigation water would be diverted to supply water to the plantings. A temporary 8-foot-tall fence would surround the plantings until they matured. DEQ agreed to fund revegetation project.
The aim is to start on the project next March.
The plan has drawn criticism from some members of the public. A retired wildlife biologist who owns property in the area of the park believes open grassland is a fine habitat that supports all kinds of wildlife which prefer that habitat over bush- and tree-covered areas. He said it didn’t make sense to destroy good grassland habitat to make more of the same kind of habitat that is found both upstream and downstream from the park. He also questions the efficacy of the willow plantings. He believes the public was sold on the park originally as a “natural area” that would not be developed. He sees this as a kind of development.
The COW meeting on the 13th, which was being conducted on Zoom, was interrupted by a power outage. As a result, the COW meeting was continued until Tuesday, October 27 where discussion of the vegetation enhancement project would be further analyzed.
The next regular City Council meeting was moved to Thursday, November 4. Mayor Dominic Farrenkopf said the Committee of the Whole could decide to have the topic on that agenda for a decision but the mayor thought that wasn’t likely.