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Boulders and trees flank newly restored Chester Creek

Kate Kubiak, district specialist with the South St. Louis County conservation district, describes the restoration work done at Chester Bowl that included rerouting Chester Creek, reinforcing it with rock and planting trees for shade. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 5
A new wooden bridge over Chester Creek is part of the Chester Bowl renovations that started last fall. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 5
Strategically placed boulders create step pools in Chester Creek. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 5
With the Chester Bowl chalet in the background, the newly rerouted Chester Creek winds around the restored park landscape Tuesday. Rocks along the creek's edge protect the adjacent land from erosion, while newly planted trees will provide shade to keep the creek cool enough for trout. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 5
A rerouted Chester Creek courses through Chester Bowl Tuesday morning. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com5 / 5

Last fall, Chester Bowl didn't look so good.

Excavators had ripped up earth, water from the stream was being funneled through a pipe and no vegetation was growing on its shores.

But now, serenity has returned to the meandering creek, with boulders flanking the shoreline and grass spawning out of the stream's embankment.

"Mother nature should like this. There's a lot of thought behind it," said Kate Kubiak, the project manager with the South St. Louis County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The two-and-a-half months of construction removed two dams that barricaded the falling water, while rerouting the Chester Creek to wind more gracefully around the landscape. Rocks, tree roots and other natural barriers now help protect the bank from erosion while newly planted grasses now border the creek.

Despite how much the restoration beautified the creek, much of construction wasn't done to make it prettier. It was done to protect fish.

"It's one of the most popular parks in the city so it's a way to show people the importance of protecting the stream for the trout," Kubiak said. "Getting the dams out of here was critical."

Chester Creek is one of 14 designated trout streams embedded in Duluth, which is why Kubiak says it's important to make sure it's habitable. Dams raise the temperature of water by slowing down a stream's flow, making it uninhabitable for trout. So after a June 2012 flood blew out the 1930s-era dams, it was determined they should be removed. Trees were also planted alongside the stream to provide shade, further cooling the water.

Even without the dams, however, flooding is still to be expected. That's why construction retained and widened the floodplain that surrounds the creek, to accommodate for any rise in the water level.

"If there's no floodplain it (the stream) can access, it's going to just erode. Now we've given it some room to spread out during those events," Kubiak said. "There will be more storms, more high-rain events. But we've built it to handle those kinds of things."

Among the improvements to the stream are the staggering boulders laid periodically throughout the 750-foot stretch. Because of the change in elevation in the restored portion of the creek, construction crews inserted large rocks to act as mini-dams for the water to run over and pool, creating a conducive habitat for fish to congregate.

Even with the completed construction, signs telling people not to touch the rocks will remain for the next two years. Kubiak doesn't want any part of the stream to change.

"Every rock matters in this creek. Everything we've put in here has a purpose."

And while the removal of the dams means some forms of recreation like fishing and swimming won't continue, most of Chester Bowl will stay the same. Activities from skiing and snowboarding to the concerts and children's summer camps will remain unchanged.

"This isn't Yellowstone, but this is a popular people's park," Kubiak said. "So we did our best trying not to interrupt anything over there. We even went with green fencing instead of obnoxious orange."