'Stitches that bind'

Streambank restoration in full swing with willow harvest

The Madison Conservation District has been working on a restoration project along Jack Creek for four years. After talks first spurred in 2014, the two-phase project is seeing its first milestone in the near completion of phase one. “Seeing the project come to fruition is really gratifying,” said Sunni Heikes-Knapton, watershed coordinator for the MCD.

The restoration project on Jack Creek is to aide in the rebuild of streambanks, a process known as bioengineering. Bioengineering techniques help to stabilize banks by temporarily holding soil together until the plants biological process kicks in – the result is a densely vegetated bank held together by a network of roots.  In order to achieve this, the MCD and volunteers have been harvesting dormant willows to be used along the Jack Creek stream bank. Thus far, over 4,000 willows, of the needed 12,000, have been harvested.

“A project of this size requires a lot of support and resources, so spreading it out makes completion realistic,” said Heikes-Knapton. “We rely on volunteer and partner labor, and two phases makes it more sensible to get their involvement. Getting the first phase done is also excellent at showing momentum and raising the remaining funds for the work.”

 On March 15 and 16, volunteers, MCD members and several Montana Conservation Corps crews braved the ever-changing Montana weather for the two field days collecting willows, which will later be distributed along the streambank. “Willows are the stitches that bind, in this case,” joked Heikes-Knapton as she prepped volunteers for the field days. Crews spent the majority of the field days along North Meadow Creek collecting and transporting willows.

The Jack Creek restoration is just one of many projects the MCD and partners are working on – they’re helping finish the final work for a project on Moore’s Creek, and have plans to involve the Madison Stream Team with monitoring results from restoration projects like the Jack Creek project.

While projects like stream restoration are complex and require a lot of participation, the reward of a healthy streambank is a benefit to all. “Our small streams play a pivotal role in our valley,” said Heikes-Knapton. “They provide benefits in their immediate areas, and they also have a big influence on what flows into the river. When these smaller streams are healthy, we see lower water temperatures, less sediment contributions, and improved habitat values – all of which help the stream and the river. Jack Creek is an important spawning area, so these projects provide long term support for trout populations too. We have also seen these projects improve the stream corridor while also making it easier for land and livestock managers, which is good for the water and the people.” 

For more information on the Jack Creek stream restoration project, or others like it, or how to get involved, visit the Madison Conservation District’s website,, or call 682-7289. And be sure to check out the interactive Madison Watershed StoryMap for an overview of the watershed and different projects.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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