IDPR Plans $8 Million Improvements for Billingsley Creek Park

By Mychel Matthews (view original article here)

HAGERMAN — Visitors to the Billingsley Creek unit of Thousand Springs State Park will in a few years find new features, unveiled Wednesday by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.

Plans include a visitor center, campground, road improvements, multi-use trails and enhanced fishing and paddling access on the creek.

“It was important to the agency that we remain committed to developing Billingsley Creek in a manner that would satisfy as many recreational needs and interests as possible,” Gordy Hansen, a member of the Idaho Park and Recreation Board from Burley, said in a statement. “We challenged our staff to explore innovative designs and cutting-edge outdoor opportunities, a few of which will soon be part of the Billingsley Creek experience.”

More than 100 people came to hear what the agency had planned for the 170-acre property, 120 acres of which are now leased out to farmers. But that will eventually change, as roads, trails, and improvements expand from the entrance of the park into the canyon toward Billingsley Creek below.

The long-term cost of the proposed project totals about $8 million. Funding for projects within the park initially will come from the sale of the nearby Vardis Fisher property, which was sold in 2015. Additional funding will come from programs such as the Recreational Vehicle Fund (RV registration fees), the Land and Water Conservation Fund (federal oil and gas excise taxes), and the Road and Bridge Fund (state fuel taxes).

As with any long-term project, the design phase will start with roads and utilities once funds are available next year, said Jim Thomas, IDPR development bureau chief. A new entrance to the park will be constructed farther north of the present entrance, and a 1.4-mile two-lane paved road will wind through the park, leading to a full-service, 50-site RV campground with dumping station.

Additional “primitive” camping will also be available for those who want to rough it, said David Landrum, Thousand Springs State Park manager.

Plans also call for an amphitheater, arboretum, information huts, a large picnic shelter, a group camp and a concrete “pump track” for bicycles.

Gooding County Commissioner Marc Bolduc said the park will be a huge economic driver for the Magic Valley.

Residents are especially excited about a walking and biking path — the Hagerman Valley Pathway — that will connect the town with Billingsley Creek, said Suzanne Jensen, a member of the bike and walk committee and secretary of the Hagerman Valley Chamber board.

“This is going to be so great for our community,” Jensen said. The second annual “Dinner on the Owsley Bridge” fundraiser for the pathway is scheduled for Sept. 15.

IDPR plans for the Billingsley Creek unit to be the hub of Thousand Springs State Park, which also includes Malad Gorge, Ritter Island, Kelton Trail, Niagara Springs, Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Nature Preserve and Crystal Springs.

“Thousand Springs State Park is a testament to why this rugged portion of southern Idaho is called the Magic Valley,” said David Langhorst, IDPR director. “Our goal is to maximize the potential of these special places and create opportunities that will draw more interest to unique attributes of the area while complementing the community and efforts to accommodate growth.”

Fish Ladder Construction – An Engineering Spectacle

By Virginia Hutchins (view original article here)

During Idaho Power’s 2005 dam relicensing, state and federal wildlife agencies wanted to restore that life history. A fish ladder finished in 2008 — at Idaho Power’s diversion for its Lower Malad hydro plant — reconnected the lower two miles of the Malad River.

On average, about 2,500 trout pass upstream through that ladder each year, said Steve Brink, senior fisheries biologist for Idaho Power. Something between 1,000 and 8,000 trout head downstream through it each year.

But until now, the mile of river between Idaho Power’s upper diversion and the Devil’s Washbowl waterfall at Malad Gorge park has remained isolated.

Planning of the upper fish ladder — another requirement of the same 30-year federal relicensing — has been in the works for years, in consultation with Idaho Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other state and county entities. And Brink has been a key player since Idaho Power began researching Malad River fish passage in 1996.

“I have quite a bit of attachment to these things finally getting built,” Brink said, visiting the Upper Malad project site in late June.

Researchers mapped more trout-spawning habitat above the upper diversion than in either of the lower reaches of the Malad. It’s not easy walking along the bank through the stinging nettle and poison ivy that line the Upper Malad forebay, but some anglers did anyway.

“This has been a good fishery for a select few locals who know how to get in here,” Brink said.

Building fish ladders for upstream passage, Brink said, has been well mastered elsewhere. But Idaho Power spent the extra time and money to figure out downstream passage in the Malad River; its Lower Malad ladder to date has passed at least twice as much downstream fish traffic as upstream.

Now, at the Upper Malad, it wants to recreate that success.

To best intercept trout heading downstream, Idaho Power’s team developed a 3-D flow model for the Upper Malad forebay. The answer: Position the new fish ladder in the southwest corner of the canyon’s tight turn, where 600 to 650 cubic feet per second of spring water enters the river.

“That spring water is excellent trout habitat,” Brink said.

The ladder’s system of slots and pools needs only 14 cfs of water. But to better attract fish, the ladder will pull in about 64 cfs. The extra 50 cfs will be screened, then piped to the bottom to rejoin the water that runs through the ladder.

Through a window in the ladder’s fish-viewing vault, Idaho Power must count the fish that pass through. It’ll use the automated video imaging software it spent years developing at the Lower Malad ladder — able to recognize each fish’s species and record its length and direction of travel — but in hardware that incorporates the camera and computer into something the size of a pop can.

That full automation is a victory that frees up a lot of labor — particularly for a biologist in Brink’s office who has been processing partially automated fish-count data from Lower Malad.

“He’s been looking at fish TV,” Brink said, “for nine years.”

Curious Mind: Local Trout Products Available Upon Request

By: Kimberly Williams Brackett (view original article)

Q: I read that Idaho produces 75 percent of the trout in the nation. Is it available fresh and frozen in our local stores?

A: “Any local retailer could carry our product but that is a decision of the seafood buyer for the retailer,” said Cally Grindstaff, VP Corporate Relations/Organizational Development for Clear Springs Foods, Inc. in Buhl.

Leo Ray, president and owner of Fish Breeders of Idaho, agreed that customers should ask for local fish in their grocery store.

“We sell retail at our processing plant at 18374 Hwy. 30 in Hagerman,” he said. “Stop in and buy some good trout.”

Clear Springs products most generally would be available in the fresh fish counter area of the store, Grindstaff said.

“Customers could make a request to the fresh fish manager at their favorite local retailer,” she said. “We do have frozen product available at Smart Foodservice Cash ‘n Carry in Twin Falls. Our products are also available via Omaha Steaks. Additionally, our products are occasionally available via some of the on-line meal kit providers such as Sunbasket.”

More than 70 percent of all rainbow trout raised in the U.S. is grown in a 30-mile stretch along the Snake River in the Magic Valley. Clear Springs, the world’s largest producer, is responsible for about 60 percent of this total, processing over 20 million pounds a year.

“Clear Springs is an employee owned, vertically integrated food company that markets its rainbow trout products throughout the country,” Grindstaff said. “The majority of trout raised in the country is produced here in the Magic Valley due to the abundance of pure, natural spring water. Products are shipped on the day of the pack and transported on the company owned trucking fleet to retail customers and food-service distributors throughout the country. Deliveries are made to regional retail food chains and distributors on a twice per week basis where it is displayed and available for consumers in the fresh fish counter of retail stores. Clear Springs enjoys an excellent reputation in the food industry and products are available to all retail food outlets. Additionally, products are available for consumers at various food-service establishments across the country.”

“Locally, customers can enjoy our products at Jakers Bar and Grill in Twin Falls, The Pioneer Saloon in Ketchum, and the Cracker Barrel restaurants nationwide just to name a few,” Grindstaff said.

According to Idaho Preferred, Idaho is the No. 1 trout-producing state in the U.S., growing more than 70 percent of all farm-raised trout. Sturgeon meat and caviar, tilapia, and catfish are also raised in Idaho.

The Trip of a Lifetime

South-central Idaho — Sturgeon are the largest fresh-water fish in North America and can be found in three of Idaho’s major river systems; the Snake River, the Kootenai and the Salmon River. This prehistoric monster of the deep is fast becoming one of Idaho’s most popular game fish. Its enormous size and fighting strength have captured the hearts of anglers from around the world.

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