Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Tracie Mitchell
Staff Writer 

Medicine Lodge Creek gets facelift


October 13, 2017

WORLAND – About a mile of Medicine Lodge Creek, from the Medicine Lodge State Archeological Site headquarters downstream to the end of Medicine Lodge Wildlife Habitat Management area, is receiving a much needed facelift to address issues caused by bank erosion, and to improve aquatic habitat and create fish passage. The project started in September and is expected to take about eight weeks to complete.

“This project, we have about a mile of Medicine Lodge Creek that we are repairing. Downstream, the stream has moved about 150 feet since 1994 and it moves about, some of the worst meander bends that are eroding, move about 7 feet per year,” Wyoming Game and Fish Aquatic Habitat Biologist Laura Burckhardt said. “Natural stable streams should only move inches a year not feet a year. So we are losing about 2,500 tons of sediment or land per year from that area, so we decided to go ahead and take a natural stream restoration approach where we use engineering approaches to make the stream move to its more stable state and look natural when it is completed,” she added.

Burckhardt stated that the reason that the creek is so unstable is because before the Game and Fish purchased the property in 1976 the previous owner had used a bulldozer to straighten the creek to try and get water down an irrigation diversion called the Betty Ditch. The straightening of the creek caused it to become unstable and start moving across the flood plain and move into the irrigated field. “Without this reach-wide restoration, Medicine Lodge Creek will continue eroding its way across the valley at a rate of seven to 20 feet per year. The next large runoff event is likely to cause the channel to cut off and straighten, causing irrigation water to be lost at the irrigation diversion and channel adjustment to occur on downstream private lands,” Burckhardt said. “This land has high recreational, wildlife habitat and agricultural value. We cannot afford to let the creek continue eroding this property over the next 10 – 20 years while the creek tries to stabilize itself,” she added.

Repairing of the creek requires more than just redirection. Burckhardt said that by replacing the bridge, improving the irrigation diversions and restoring the channel dimensions across the entire reach will establish a long term-term solution to the instabilities and degradation. “We are restoring the channel dimensions to a stable state where the stream wants to be or how it would naturally be and then we are putting in a bunch of wood structures called toe wood, to help create undercut banks and fish habitat but it also protects the banks from eroding, the outside stream bends are what erode the most,” Burckhardt explained.

Before the project there was very little fish habitat due to the shallowness and steep eroding banks. The toe wood will create the necessary habitat and the creek will be deeper.

Another diversion, the Anthony Division, located in the Medicine Lodge State Archeological Site Park is a diversion that is a complete fish passage barrier. Burckhardt stated that that barrier will be removed and a fish ladder will be put into its place so that fish can go upstream to spawn.

A fish ladder is a system created where fish can swim in a pool and then jump about six inches to the next pool and to the next, to go around or over an obstacle that interferes with fish migration.

“The project will greatly reduce a nonpoint sediment and E.coli source, will provide improved riparian function, fisheries habitat and it will provide an outstanding fishing access for the public including children and handicapped individuals,” Burckhardt stated.

Funding partners for the project include the East Yellowstone Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Paint Rock Canyon Enterprises, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming State Parks Historic Sites and Trails, Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust Fund and Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.


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