Hidden Gem in the Headwaters

Hidden Creek is a gem nestled in the shale and limestone of the Canadian Rockies. It has been a popular recreation area for many years. Like many of our beautiful spaces here in southern Alberta, Hidden Creek was damaged in the 2013 floods.  The combination of these factors has contributed to the destruction of aquatic and riparian habitat, which threatens downstream water quality. Habitat degradation and poor water quality are some of the major issues faced by populations of fish like bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout isolated in Hidden Creek.

OWC got involved because of the ecological importance of this area, and because Hidden Creek is part of our headwaters - its water eventually flows into the Oldman River and makes its way to communities downstream. The OWC is committed to bettering the health of our headwaters by working towards Goal Three of our Integrated Watershed Management Plan: to “manage and protect the integrity of headwaters and source waters.” To do this, we work with and support the efforts of numerous partners, including the Government of Alberta.

In order to repair some of the damage incurred by human disturbance and the 2013 flood, Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) is undertaking a multi-year habitat improvement effort through the Southern Alberta Fisheries Habitat Enhancement and Sustainability (FISHES) Program.  OWC’s Outreach Assistants were invited to add our efforts to the riparian work being done by AEP and Chevallier Geo-Con Ltd. at Hidden Creek at the end of July.

  Our work site for the day. We planted densely on the banks around the standing water on the right, and a little less densely in the ‘rough and loose’ on the left.

Our work site for the day. We planted densely on the banks around the standing water on the right, and a little less densely in the ‘rough and loose’ on the left.

When we arrived at the site, Grant Chevallier, the head engineer, was there to show us around and give us a little more insight into this project.

  Grant Chevallier of Chevallier Geo-Con showing OWC Outreach Assistant Dylan Brassard the work being done.

Grant Chevallier of Chevallier Geo-Con showing OWC Outreach Assistant Dylan Brassard the work being done.

Grant told us about how the crews are using a technique called “rough and loose” on the old trails, followed by planting trees to deter off-road traffic and stabilize stream banks. Our task for the day was to plant willow plugs. These plugs were clippings from willows that had been cultivated in the Currey Reforestation nursery. As with willow staking, we dug a hole and buried the plug in the ground. We planted more densely closer to the water, which helps to further retain banks and sediment but also maintains a higher success rate because growing willows need to stay hydrated. By the end of the day we had planted around 800 trees - not bad for a day’s work!

  Left :  Willows plugs are grown in the Currey nursery before being planted. They’re bundled in plastic wrap to retain moisture during transport. Each plug has been grown from a native willow clipping.   Middle  : Jason Currey from Currey Reforestation showing off a spruce plug.   Right  : Spruce plugs are taller, and we used fewer of them. These too were started in the Currey nursery, but not from clippings like the willows. These spruce were grown from seeds.

Left: Willows plugs are grown in the Currey nursery before being planted. They’re bundled in plastic wrap to retain moisture during transport. Each plug has been grown from a native willow clipping.
Middle: Jason Currey from Currey Reforestation showing off a spruce plug.
Right: Spruce plugs are taller, and we used fewer of them. These too were started in the Currey nursery, but not from clippings like the willows. These spruce were grown from seeds.

As they grow, the trees will shade Hidden Creek, cooling the water. The growing trees will also help cycle and maintain balanced nutrient levels  through denitrification, nutrient uptake, and leaf decay. Finally, these trees may even root into the creek - creating pools, offering cooler shaded spaces, and  providing safe and covered refuge for fish by protecting them from predators lurking above. These are positive steps in ensuring the future success of westslope cutthroat trout in Hidden Creek.

  Previously, this site had been a creek crossing. The log will help keep sediment from washing into the creek, while the willow and spruce will grow and retain sediment and deter traffic. The matting will retain moisture, helping the little trees grow.

Previously, this site had been a creek crossing. The log will help keep sediment from washing into the creek, while the willow and spruce will grow and retain sediment and deter traffic. The matting will retain moisture, helping the little trees grow.

We were very glad to have been invited to work on this project with Alberta Environment and Parks, Chevallier Geo-Con Ltd., and Currey Reforestation. The OWC is always looking for ways to support and celebrate all stewards of the land. If you are helping to better our headwaters or our watershed, let us know! We love to showcase local efforts.

Thanks to 3-year funding through the Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program, OWC will continue to work together with partners - including the Government of Alberta - to improve riparian habitat in our headwaters, and help restore critical habitat for threatened species like westslope cutthroat trout.

Volunteer! Help plant willows at our Restoration Event on October 13th.

Donate to the Watershed Fund to help ensure this critical work continues.

Make a Change! Steer clear of water: Camp away from creeks and riparian areas. Keep wheels out of water; stay on designated trails and use bridges.

  These plugs will grow up to protect critical habitat for threatened fish, as well as the source of our drinking water.

These plugs will grow up to protect critical habitat for threatened fish, as well as the source of our drinking water.