A revitalized waterway: Conservation district restores 4,500 feet of Sargent Creek
Sargent Creek is buried behind brush and hidden from the Willard Munger State Trail that runs alongside it. It's not a well-traveled waterway. Yet, more than $1.3 million was spent on restoring 4,500 feet of the waterway in rural western Duluth t...
Sargent Creek is buried behind brush and hidden from the Willard Munger State Trail that runs alongside it. It’s not a well-traveled waterway.
Yet, more than $1.3 million was spent on restoring 4,500 feet of the waterway in rural western Duluth this summer. That’s because this stream is a designated cold water trout stream.
“The creek is hidden, but it’s a very high-quality trout habitat,” said Kate Kubiak, project manager for the restoration. “It’s a very high-quality terrestrial habitat.”
Kubiak works for the South St. Louis Soil & Water Conservation District, which has tackled a number of stream restoration projects in recent years. The Sargent Creek project is its 15th.
Another victim of the 2012 flood event that laid waste to a number of waterways in the region, Sargent Creek was left with scattered wooden debris and eroding banks that would sweep sediment toward the St. Louis River. After two years of planning and a summer of construction, the creek is now restored to a more productive state, complete with erosion-control systems and an excavated flood plain.
“Everything was a mess,” said Kubiak. “There were trees all over the place, so we purposely build this floodplain. Without a floodplain, it digs out its banks.”
Sargent Creek is a good example of what happens when there isn’t a floodplain with enough capacity to handle high amounts of water. The 2012 flood washed away a lot of sediment and wore away the sides of the creek.
“Now we have measured it just so when (water) rises, it spreads out and dissipates its energy,” said Kubiak. “Now it’s happy. It’s stabilized. It’s in the right slope.”
When sediment gets eroded, it can be a big problem for waterways. Not only does it mean more of the river bank is disappearing with running water, but it also becomes a disturbance for the trout that call the stream their habitat. With erosion blankets laid down to hold dirt in place and trees planted to stabilize the bank, an estimated 100 dump-truck loads of dirt that gets lost every year will remain in place.
“Under all of these mats are native plants and grasses that will come up in the next three years,” said Kubiak. “We say ‘they sleep, they creep and then they leap.’ ”
The other waterway restoration completed this summer was at Chester Bowl. A 750-foot section of Chester Creek was given a makeover with heavy boulders and planted trees for erosion control and a mini-dam system that sectioned off parts of water for trout to feed and lay eggs.
Much of the Sargent Creek reclamation followed a similar formula.
“We were very methodical in the engineering,” said Kubiak. “All of it was measured and the engineering was in-house.”
Planning went beyond just engineering calculations. The district was deliberate in its design, down to the types of trees it planted and where it moved the dirt that was dug up.
Almost a mile long, this was the conservation district’s biggest project to date. They had to clear two pathways through the woods so excavators could access the site. While the state of Minnesota sponsored the project, help also came from the Department of Natural Resources Trails division, St. Louis County and the city of Duluth.