POCATELLO — Volunteers working with the city have cleared about a dozen significant log and debris jams throughout a reach of the lower Portneuf River, making it navigable for float trips involving small watercraft.
The city's environmental coordinator, Hannah Sanger, said log jams have been removed throughout an approximately 5-mile reach from Sacajawea Park in northwest Pocatello to Batiste Road, near the municipal sewage treatment plant.
Sanger said the project fulfills the first phase of the city's vision to improve the Portneuf River by making it floatable.
"You don't have to drive to Lava Hot Springs to float the river," Sanger said. "You can do it right in Pocatello."
Sanger said a group of about eight volunteers worked all day from Monday through Thursday clearing logs and stacking them on the bank. The group also hauled away bottles, tires, bags and other trash. She anticipated the group would return to the reach Friday morning to wrap up its work.
Western States Caterpillar donated the use of an excavator. J.R. Simplot Co. gave fuel money. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Koger Excavation contributed the time of staff members trained to operate the excavator. The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the nonprofit Portneuf Resource Council also pitched in labor.
"Things were extremely backed up," said Cary Myler, a stream biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife program. "It's been like this probably for decades."
Myler said the city may opt to come in later and remove some of the bank-side wood piles, which should also provide habitat for small mammals in the meantime.
Steve Smith, who works in source-water protection with the DEQ, said the project should protect aquatic wildlife by removing trash and reducing sediment loads in the river.
"There's a lot of bed erosion going on underneath these log jams," Smith explained.
Sanger said she's heard from many outdoor recreation enthusiasts who are eager to float the river, which hasn't been an enticing option for years.
"(Boaters) say it was beautiful but really challenging," Sanger said, adding that those who previously attempted to float the river had to get out a dozen times to portage, which was complicated by deep holes and floating logs.
Sanger expects outdoor recreation programs operated by the city and Idaho State University will spread the word about the new recreation opportunity. Sanger said the ISU Outdoor Program coordinated a large-scale river cleanup involving hand labor in the 1990s, also seeking to make it more navigable. She said Simplot, Boy Scout troops and Portneuf Valley Pride led subsequent smaller cleanups in the early 2000s.
"This is really about making it a river Pocatello can enjoy," Sanger said.