Design work set to begin on Grant Creek relocation, restoration

Efforts to relocate a stretch of Grant Creek south of Broadway received a boost this week after the Missoula City Council approved a $910,000 federal ARPA grant to begin designing the project.

The urban stretch of Grant Creek has been contained to little more than an irrigation ditch for generations now, though work to relocate and restore the channel will return it to a more natural condition.

“It’s going to relocate a portion of Grant Creek south of West Broadway known as the Horseshoe Bend,” said Andy Schultz, the city engineer for utilities. “The city applied for and received an ARPA water and sewer competitive grant for this specific project this year.”

Improvements to Grant Creek are closely tied the larger infrastructure project unfolding within the greater Mullan, or Sxwtpqyen area south of Broadway and west of Reserve Street.

Of the 10 projects included in a federal grant application submitted by Missoula County in 2019 to fund the work, nine represented road and trail projects. The last project – the restoration of Grant Creek – also made the list, but given the cost and urgency of the area’s transportation needs, it was put off until other funding sources are identified.

But the need for restoration hasn’t dwindled, according to the Clark Fork Coalition.

“In its 19-mile journey to its confluence with the Clark Fork it undergoes a radical transformation, hammered in its lower reaches by high-intensity urban development, commercial and industrial runoff, and agricultural operations,” the coalition notes. “After 150 years of heavy use, water quality and aquatic and riparian habitats in the lower creek have become impaired. It has lost its connectivity and natural ecological function.”

Channeling, grazing and dewatering have taken a toll on Grant Creek, which is eyed for relocation and restoration in the Missoula Valley. (Clark Fork Coalition photo)

Plans for Grant Creek include its relocation and restoration south of Broadway, and ensuring it runs cold and clear into the Clark Fork River. The scope of work awarded to DJ&A include designing one mile of the creek.

As initially proposed, the plan would create a buffer as wide as 150 feet along the old stream bed. The creek would be removed from its ditch and allowed to meander through a system of marshes in the planning area. It also looks to restore the stream’s natural habitat and allow for stormwater recharge.

“It will take a big portion of this area that’s in the floodplain and contain it within a riparian area along the creek itself, and it will have a stream channel capable of carrying the base flow that we see,” said Schultz. “A portion of it is to establish a robust riparian area. That defined floodplain will essentially be a riparian area.”

The project will also include the design of a shared-use path along the creek and plans to extend George Elmer Drive over the creek once restoration is complete. Schultz said the grant requires a one-to-one match, and funding will be provided through a special impact fee placed on the Sxwtpqyen area.

While the restoration included in the design doesn’t cover the entire stretch of Grant Creek, it’s a start. The ecological benefits of restoration would have far-reaching impacts, wildlife experts have said.

“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.”