The Gallatin River Task Force buttoned up a large-scale streambank restoration project on the West Fork of the Gallatin River as if flows through the Big Sky Resort Golf Course in May 2017. The project, which broke ground in October 2016, addresses elevated nutrient and fine sediment levels in the West Fork.

Elevated nutrients can cause excess algae growth, which depletes dissolved oxygen vital to aquatic life. Potential human sources of nitrate in the West Fork include fertilizer, land application of treated wastewater effluent on the Big Sky Resort Golf Course and Big Sky Community Park, effluent from privately owned septic systems, and storm water runoff.

Excess fine sediment negatively impacts channel morphology, aquatic life, and recreational use. Sources of fine sediment include natural land disturbance, erosion from construction areas and unpaved roads, disturbance of riparian (streamside) areas, and road traction sand.

One of three streambanks rebuilt during the West Fork Restoration project.

Three different features were installed during the West Fork Restoration Project to address these water quality concerns:

1)    Wetlands – Seedling were planted in a natural depression, which fills with water when it rains, to create a functional wetland. Wetlands offer many benefits to the environment, including improving water quality, storing water, and providing wildlife habitat.

2)    Willow Plantings – Streamside vegetation was restored in key locations on the Big Sky Golf Course. Riparian plants, like willows, absorb nutrients from runoff, and help keep potential contaminants out of rivers and streams. In addition, their leaves shade water, cooling water temperature for trout.

3)    Restored Streambanks – Three eroding streambanks were rebuilt with layers of conifer boughs, willow stakes, and fabric wrapped dirt. In the years to come, the willows will root and establish, which will prevent erosion and improve water quality.

The Task Force will monitor streamside vegetation and water quality to measure the future impacts of the project.  For more information, look out for interpretive signs installed on the Big Sky Resort Golf Course this summer.

The West Fork Restoration Project was supported by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the Big Sky Area Resort Tax District; made possible by the landowner Big Sky Resort; and supported by the efforts of numerous volunteers and the Big Sky Resort Golf Course staff.

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