The Community’s Stream: Broadwater County Celebrates Successful Restoration of Deep Creek
Over the past decade, more than 20 landowners took on hundreds of conservation projects to improve stream health and agricultural lands along the creek. They upgraded irrigation systems to reduce water use, installed fencing and off-stream stock watering systems, planted trees, and helped develop plans for restoring 20 miles of stream. In all, half the private lands along Deep Creek – 19,000 acres – saw conservation improvements that transformed the creek, returning it to a wider floodplain that stores more water for fish and agricultural producers alike.
None of it would have been possible without a slew of watershed partners working together, including the landowners themselves, state and federal agencies, nonprofit groups, volunteers, and the Broadwater Conservation District (CD), which helped build trust among all the partners.
“People came together who wouldn’t have without some help,” said Broadwater CD Supervisor Gary Flynn, who gives special praise to the efforts of CD Project Coordinator Denise Thompson and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist Justin Meissner. “I don’t think it would’ve been nearly as successful without both of them.”
On a sunny day in late October, over 40 landowners and watershed partners gathered to celebrate their successes: increased stream flows, more brown trout spawning, improvements to agricultural production, reduced water temperatures, less sediment in the stream, and more than 30 local and statewide education and outreach events reaching 1,500 people.
Behind them, glinting gold in the sun, was the statue built to commemorate all their hard work: a man and woman, one in hip waders, the other with a clipboard, reaching out to shake hands. Along with two informational signs designed by Casey Steinke of Top Sign & Grafx, the roadside pull-out tells the Deep Creek story with the words “Teamwork Makes the Stream Work.”
“It’s the community’s stream,” said Ron Spoon, a Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) biologist who has spent nearly 30 years helping Deep Creek landowners use water more efficiently. “The culture has changed here, and this is where we leave it for the landowners to figure out … What parts to keep and what parts to change in the future.”
Jim Dolan, the artist who created the handshake sculpture, was impressed. “To have people get together and actually work out something with their water is a pretty big deal in Montana,” he told the crowd.
Other key partners recognized at the October 24 celebration and dedication were Deep Creek Landowner Advisory Group members; the Broadwater County Stream and Lake Committee; Robert Ray with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Jim Beck, who has spent years coordinating volunteers to monitor Deep Creek for temperature, flow, sediments, and other signs of health; Kim and Sam Antonick, the landowners who are hosting the sculpture and signs on their property; and the Broadwater CD Board of Supervisors, who Thompson called the “unsung heroes” of conservation in the county.
“This is not necessarily an end point, either,” Flynn said. “It’s a waypoint. We just hope it gives people some ideas they can grab ahold of and go with if they want.”
To learn more about the Deep Creek restoration project, contact CD Project Coordinator Denise Thompson or CD Administrator Josie Reynolds at: (406) 266-3146, ext. 3014 for Thompson, ext. 3016 for Reynolds. You can also find more information about the Broadwater CD’s work at https://broadwatercd.org/.
To learn more about the people behind the restoration, check out the Montana Watershed Coordination Council’s Broadwater County Watershed Stories web page: https://mtwatersheds.org/app/watershed-stories-broadwater-cd/