By John O'Connell [email protected]
March 27, 2019
City progressing on vision of recreation, restored wetland in Portneuf
POCATELLO, IDAHO — At the moment, Rainey Park is just a small fast-pitch softball field.
City officials are poised, however, to take the first step toward transforming it into a wetland ecosystem, where the Portneuf River's natural flooding will sustain native vegetation and associated wildlife.
It's among the initial projects the city has in the planning stages to implement the goals of the community's Portneuf River Vision Study, developed in 2016 based on an extensive public outreach process.
The City Council is scheduled to vote April 4 on a $115,000 contract with Driggs-based Harmony Design & Engineering to commence the first phase of designing the wetland.
The city's concept includes a channel bisecting the marsh, nature trails and an outdoor amphitheater, where local students will meet to study the aquatic habitat.
City officials are also moving forward on plans to develop short, placid reaches of the river for recreation. Hannah Sanger, the city's Science and Environment Division manager, has applied for a $16,000 grant through Idaho Parks and Recreation to build a small parking area for river users and accessible locations for people with small watercraft to start and end float trips.
Sanger said the city is in the process of developing an implementation plan spelling out how it intends to realize the goals of its vision study. She said the study identified that the community should focus on improving water quality and river access, establishing river recreation, engaging community members with the river and enhancing the local quality of life.
"The river could be a real center for economic revitalization," Sanger said. "It's a broad community effort. There are lots groups working on it."
She believes the wetland would further all of those goals. The aquatic vegetation would capture sediment and naturally filter the river water. The marsh would provide residents with easy access to the river, where, banks are now lined with jagged rip-rap. Furthermore, residents would frequent the marsh to enjoy nature.
Maggie Clark, the city's public works project manager, said construction of the wetland is likely still at least five years out, and more fundraising will be needed to build it. She said Valley Pride contributed $26,000 toward the engineering.
Clark explained the earthen levee would likely be pulled back roughly 200 feet into the park to allow river water to enter without flooding into surrounding areas. The Portneuf Greenway trail would also be rerouted onto the newly built portion of the levee.
Clark said the forthcoming engineering plan will build on a conceptual plan created by Utah State University students studying landscape architecture.
"We're planning on attracting various wildlife — several species of birds and different aquatic vegetation," Clark said. "There are a lot of sedges, grasses, rushes, dogwoods, small willows — a lot of different things we've been thinking about, but nothing has been planned yet."
Clark explained some areas of the wetland will be inundated for longer periods of the year than others, thereby supporting a broader diversity of riparian plants.
Michael Mendive, dean of the Pocatello Community Charter School, which is adjacent to the planned wetland, has been an ardent supporter of the project and anticipates his students will use it for science and biology lessons.
His fifth- and sixth-graders study water quality and take water samples from the Portneuf River. The project would provide them better access for sampling. The classes also study macroinvertebrates and the health of river ecosystems. His first- and second-graders nurture an area along the river to support monarch butterfly habitat, and Mendive imagines that area could be relocated into the wetland.
"This wetland, the way it's designed would be ideal for us," said Mendive, who served on the committee that oversaw the Portneuf River Vision plan. "We would gladly lend our kids to help develop that and maintain that."
Sanger said the city has already installed signs along the river offering information about water quality, and she's proposing three initial Portneuf River reaches for floating.
The shortest float would be a half mile, starting at Taysom Rotary Park and ending with put-outs in Centennial Park along the west bank and Rainey Park on the east bank.
A 2-mile float would span from Edson Fichter Nature Area to Taysom Rotary Park. A 5-mile float is planned to begin off of Portneuf Road about a half mile south of Fort Hall Mine Road, where a small parking area is also planned on Bureau of Land Management property. The float would end at the Edson Fichter Nature Area.
Sanger plans to host a "test float" during August, when she'll invite the community to float the proposed recreational river reaches. She plans to book food trucks and bring in flotation devices to give the event a festive atmosphere.
She said the test float should give the city "a sense of how the community members want to use this space" and will inform the city's designs. Sanger said she's had strong interest from community members in serving on a committee to plan the test float. Anyone interested in aiding the committee may contact her at [email protected].