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Facebook tip highlights Willow Creek restoration

A crew lays down brush and tree roots to stabilize the eroding Willow Creek.1 / 2
A crew lays down brush and tree roots to stabilize the eroding Willow Creek.2 / 2

A tip submitted through Facebook messages uncovered a large stream bank restoration project that could improve both Willow Creek and the bodies of water downstream, yet the restoration started largely without fanfare.

Terrie Griep, who lives on the stream, asked a staff member with the PineandLakes Echo Journal about the project. She said that over the course of 15 years the creek has been the subject of different alterations on an almost yearly basis. She was concerned about this restoration and wanted to know its purpose and who funded it.

It turned out that the Crow Wing County Soil and Conservation District was responsible for the project, designed to stabilize the stream bank, restore a natural buffer and eliminate the need for future restorations. Though the excavation work likely looked drastic, the project is designed to eliminate the need for the types of alterations Griep mentioned in the future.

It all started two years ago when owners of a farm located on the stream decided to remove their cattle from the adjoining land. Removal of the cattle was an important step that allowed the stream bank to naturally start to recover from years of erosion and nutrient deposits that would wash into the stream during rain events.

"We are just trying to restore that natural, stable stream channel and bank," said Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation District Technician Project Manager Beth Hippert. "In order to do that and stop the erosion, sediment discharge and the nutrients flowing into the lake we use a process called toe wood."

Hippert described the process that entails several layers. First, 8- to 12-inch trees are driven into the bank below the water level where they are not seen and will not rot, then tree root wads are interspersed with the trunks followed by a layer of an inch to inch and a half of shrub material, a layer of wood, more logs and more shrubs. The soil is built to an elevation called bank fall, which is equal to a year and a half rain event.

Finally, the bank is topped off with soil wraps, blanket like material filled with native soils and staked down with living pieces of willow that will root and create a strong streambank all together. The space is then planted with native seeds and plants.

"The toe wood is buying time for the vegetation to get established and create great habitat," Hippert said.

More than 300 feet of toe wood was installed in the restoration project. The project itself will cost approximately $50,000 to $60,000 and should be done by Nov. 15. The project was funded through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Fund, a partner's grant, the Pine River Watershed Alliance, Whitefish Area Property Owners Association, the Long Farm and a grant from Enbridge.

"It takes some of the sedimentation and discharge out of the equation. It's a natural, stable stream. That's what the design is based on," Hippert said.