Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) When Missoula County applied for federal funding to tackle a major infrastructure project in the growing area of west Missoula, it included plans to restore Grant Creek to a more natural condition.

While the amount awarded in the grant wasn't enough to cover the work in the first phase, the county on Tuesday said it still plans to see the job through. It took a significant step by signing an agreement guiding how the partners in restoration will approach the work in the coming years.

“Restoration of that creek was part of the BUILD grant,” said county planner Karen Hughes. “In order to implement that strategy, the Clark Fork Coalition and the partners have come together as part of the working group to develop a strategy on how to proceed with restoration.”

As part of the grant application, restoration advocates have eyed a stretch of Grant Creek south of Broadway, where it has been reduced to little more than an irrigation ditch. In early 2022, the City of Missoula approved a $910,000 federal ARPA grant to begin designing the project.

But the larger vision breaks the creek into four sections south of Interstate 90 to the waterway's confluence with the Clark Fork River. The entire watershed covers around 30 square miles while the creek itself flows 18 miles across mountains, grasslands, urban neighborhoods and farmland.

The goals for segment one south of the interstate to Broadway call for a stable channel with perennial flows, native plant and a riparian buffer, along with a greenway trail. All phases call for aquatic habitat to support spring fish migration and the required connectivity.

But of all phases, addressing stage two may be the biggest. The two-mile segment flows from Broadway to Hiawatha Drive and was channelized a century ago to support nearby agricultural development. The city's restoration plans are focused on just under one mile of the creek within the area included in the Sxwtpqyen Master Plan.

“We especially value a naturally functioning floodplain with capacity for flood control and a riparian vegetation corridor through open space,” reads the guiding vision. “The recommended strategies for this segment would help reinforce a natural, stable stream with minimal maintenance needs and would protect water quality.”

Grant Creek restoration map.
Grant Creek restoration map.

Stage three of the creek also poses “a complex history of channel alteration and social conflict.” The existing channel is “narrow, deep, erosive, and poses risks to human safety.” The restoration plan calls for a natural channel design, habitat connectivity and recreational amenities.

Last week, the Grant Creek Working Group detailed its plans to restore the waterway, particularly the lowest reach, which represents stage four of the restoration map. The group and its backers are waiting for all parties to sign the agreement before starting the project.

Along with water quality and other benefits, supporting the native trout population is key.

“Grant Creek is the next important cold-water tributary in the middle Clark Fork down from Rattlesnake Creek,” David Brooks, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited, told Missoula County in 2020. “There are both wild and native trout that live and spawn in Grant Creek, including our state fish, the Westslope cutthroat trout.”

County officials on Tuesday said they were eager to see the project move forward. By signing the memorandum of agreement, another piece of the project fell into place.

“If anyone out there thinks we're ignoring or have forgotten Grant Creek, it's not true,” said Commissioner Juanita Vero.