The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month solicited public comment on a proposed bank stabilization project along a 486-foot stretch of Rock Creek some 2,500 feet upstream from its confluence with the Clark Fork. The proposal was submitted by landowner and conservationist Don King in an effort to address erosion and side channel issues hampering access to his property, and if approved would involve use of an increasingly popular method of bank stabilization known as bioengineering.
King's project has already been reviewed by a number of local and state agencies, and received the approval of the Missoula Conservation District in early June. The primary goal, King says, is to ensure Rock Creek maintains its current course under the existing road bridge. Starting about six years ago, a side channel became more active, at times making the road to his residence impassable and raising concerns that the river could change course completely. Not only would the project protect access to his property, King says, it would also keep Rock Creek from bypassing the U.S. Geological Survey water gauge immediately downstream of his bridge.
Due to Rock Creek's status as a bull trout fishery, the Corps is consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine what effects the project would have on endangered fish or critical habitat. Corps Project Manager Nathan Green says many of the considerations for the endangered species are "baked into the project design."
"Overall, they've taken these minimization efforts to make this project as least impactful on the fish as possible," Green says.
The proposal calls for the temporary diversion of Rock Creek's main channel into an abandoned side channel to facilitate construction. The western bank would then be built out and the mouth of the existing side channel reinforced, all using large woody debris, rootwads and brush layers containing willow clippings, pine boughs and dogwood. Similar bioengineering practices have been implemented elsewhere in the state including the upper Clark Fork, Silver Bow Creek and upstream portions of Rock Creek. Chris Brick, science director with the Clark Fork Coalition, calls it "the new trend."
"After five, 10 years, you can't really tell it's there," she says.
While the magnitude of the project did prompt the Clark Fork Coalition to keep a close eye on it, Brick says the nonprofit recognizes the need to protect infrastructure and knows of King as an avid angler and conservationist. King was among the Rock Creek residents who rallied together in 2006 to defeat a proposed subdivision at the river's mouth—land that now belongs to Five Valleys Land Trust. Executive Director Grant Kier says King has been a staunch supporter of the land trust's efforts, and believes that ethic is reflected in the approach he's chosen to take with his proposal.
"It's Rock Creek," King says. "My family spent a lot of time with a lot of others around here trying to fight that guy who was trying to build a housing development ... Rock Creek is very special to everybody."