Mandeville Creek streams through fields and past major roadways of Bozeman, serving as a small urban reminder of Gallatin Valley’s watershed. Much of the stream has become polluted and, at times, resembles a ditch, initiating several groups to make efforts towards restoration over the last decade to reinvigorate the once trout-spawning creek and restore its waters. One such project is breaking ground on campus — the Mandeville Creek Coalition.
Mandeville Creek originates as a narrow spring creek in the fields south of campus. It flows past Roskie Hall to West College Street where it delves underground, resurfacing near West Main Street. Eventually, it leads into the East Gallatin River as a key tributary.
According to the coalition, Mandeville Creek is currently in an unhealthy condition. In many areas, the creek lacks natural meandering necessary to slow the water flow. There is significant nitrate and phosphate contamination degrading the water quality. In addition, most of the stream lacks natural cover and native species along its banks. However, with renovation and a bit of labor, the coalition says the creek could certainly be reestablished as a healthy ecosystem.
While the majority of the pollution can be traced to the horse pastures the stream flows through, the campus and the community further contribute to the troubles by littering and runoff. Restoration efforts have already taken place by MSU and Bozeman High School in recent years, but many sections still require re-meandering and developing native vegetation in order to begin returning the creek to good health.
Coalition leaders Sam Larkin, Hailey Gelzer and Will Griffiths began to develop a plan to restore MSU’s section of the Mandeville in fall 2016. The undertaking became possible when the Sustainability Advisory Council, which works to facilitate, coordinate and advise sustainability efforts on campus, approved a grant for the first phase of the project. Along with efforts from the organization Sustainability Now (SNow), the initial steps of the project have already been taken.
Larkin, the leader of the Sustainable Landscapes Taskforce of SNow, said, “especially here at the university, we have a responsibility to practice what we preach. We have the ability to restore landscapes, bring back biodiversity and create environments that are more than just pretty to look at, but functional and edible. It’s a very holistic project with many disciplines and will provide opportunities for outdoor education.”
The first phase of restoration required harvesting willows from the East Gallatin and planting the willow cuttings to help stabilize the bank, which will grow to provide water-cooling cover. In the next month, the project will take on creating a riparian ecosystem by solidifying the landscape on the stream bank by planting more native flora such as cottonwoods, alders and additional willows. The final stages will ease the transition from riparian to upland plants, such as bushes and trees. A major goal of the coalition is to eventually create a “food forest” along the Mandeville. If restoration goes according to plan, apple trees, berry bushes and other edible foods will flourish along the creek.
Not only could food be found along the creek, but within it. It’s been over 20 years since the last brown trout was caught in the Mandeville, but the coalition believes the creek has potential to once again become spawning grounds. “MSU is known as ‘Trout University,’” Gelzer said. “People come to Bozeman to fish, and fish could be brought back to the Mandeville. It’s a far-fetched goal, but students here could one day fish outside their dorms.”
The group hopes to involve as many students and community members as possible in the restoration, as the project will require hands-on action and patience. “What we’re doing this spring is just a kick starter. There’s unlimited potential for restoring the streambed and transforming the creek, and it makes sense that we should protect and value the water we have right here in our backyard,” Larkin said.
The Mandeville Creek Coalition can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Events will be posted on the group’s Facebook page of the same name.