At the end of July, I was able to attend a professional training course called River Assessment and Monitoring. It is the 3rd of 5 levels of training offered by Wildland Hydrology, a leader in stream restoration through extensive research, design and implementation. This class focused on techniques/methods of assessing the condition of rivers. We look at bed degradation or aggradation; bank erosion; changes in pattern, profile and cross-sectional dimension; and sediment competence and capacity. The class lasted two weeks with 1-2 days of lecture in class, 3 days of field work, and about 4-5 days of data analysis and presentations. We basically have a class day, then go in the field the next day, analyze the data we collected the next day, then present our analysis the next day and do that through 3 cycles. So there was a lot of work, a lot of late nights in a rustic conference center out in the middle of nowhere. Oh, but it was in the hills of western MONTANA.
I flew out of Lexington early and would have missed my flight if it hadn’t been delayed for more than an hour so the flight crew could finish their McBreakfast platters. I landed in Chicago with just enough time to sprint through the entire airport knocking down old-ladies and punting infant-filled strollers and carseats out of my way. (I did have to sprint). They were literally closing the doors when I got there. So then I flew into Seattle, which, let me tell you, is a beautiful approach… wow. Grabbed some lunch there and then caught my plane to Missoula. The Missoula airport is pretty small, I mean there wasn’t a little guy shouting “de plane, de plane”, but there was more rental car places than depart/arrive gates. I stepped out into the hot, dry air and thought all things were right in the world. Not even the HHR (a cross between a minivan and a pt cruiser) that enterprise gave me could bring down my excitement. I picked up some groceries for the week and headed out to Lubrecht Experimental Forest a sort of “campground” for forestry research in conjunction with the University of Montana. On the way, I spotted a forest fire in one of the neighboring forests (something you don’t see everyday “back East”).
So here is some background on the stuff we were learning…
|Look at that beautiful bankfull bench on the right!|
On field day two, we went to a sight 2 hours away. It was a sight under special attention from the EPA for clean-up. An old mine slurry pond had failed and sent tons of metal-laden sediment throughout the valley below and really jacked up the stream there. So the prior year, the class had set up all kinds of monitoring apparatus like bank pins and scour chains. We were going back through and measuring everything they did exactly the same way they did it to see how things changed.
|Yes, that is my fat finger.|
|Look at that tiny culvert. No wonder the stream has issues.|
OK. Bankpins are pieces of rebar (the stuff you see sticking out of concrete sometimes) that are driven horizontally in the bank until the end is flush with the bank. When you come back to measure it, you can see and measure how far the bank has eroded and get an idea of erosion rates based on the time interval between visits.
|The chains are installed so that the last link is at the surface|
|You can see the chain at the bottom|
Despite being screwed by crappy work from the previous class, our presentation was a much heralded success of which we were proud. At this stage, we learned (I reviewed) a sediment transport model built into my company’s RIVERMorph software. It basically takes a cross section (reference, impaired or designed) and routes bedload and suspended sediment data through the cross-section and tells you whether that cross section has the hydraulic properties to adequately pass the amount of sediment that is coming at it from upstream. If your channel doesn’t have enough capacity, then sediment will drop out and your stream will aggrade and then vice versa. It’s a pretty nifty tool that can be applied to almost any stream, even if you don’t have sediment data readily available.
Anyway… On the third field day, we went to a farm where the farmer wants to fix his crappy (literal) stream. It had a lot of “hoof shear” from his cattle. On this day, we installed our own bank pins and scour chains and surveyed it all so that the class next year could do the same thing we did on field day 2.
|Here we are collecting and analyzing a bar sample. Determining the gradation of material being moved through the stream.|
|You know it's going to be good when a border collie meets you at the door. He had free reign inside too.|
The following are a selection of the photos I took in the park, mostly along Going-to-the-Sun Road.
|This is Lake McDonald... beautiful..|
|No creeks are this clear in the East, and especially not rivers.|
|This is what a riffle looks like from under water... oooooo..... aaaahhhhh...|
That place was gorgeous. Breathtaking. I wanted to hike a couple small trails while were in the park, but a random rain/hail storm popped up when we reached Logan’s Pass at the Continental Divide, which discouraged my weak-stomached fellow travelers. I would love to take Lindsy back there and spend some more time in the park…
We finished up at noon the last day and I headed back to Missoula and had lunch with a local DEQ guy who attended the class (a fellow baseball fanatic). After that, I decided to get some hiking in before my flight left that evening. I went to the Pattee Canyon Recreation Area within the Lolo National Forest near Missoula, MT.
I hiked Crazee Canyon Road to the top of Mt. Sentinel (about 3.5 mi straight up one way) which overlooks the town of Missoula.
When I got back to the car, I bathed in leftover bottled water, changed clothes and splashed some cologne on. Then I grabbed some dinner and headed to the airport.
The trip was amazing and a lot of fun. I wished KCT and Lindsy could have been there with me. We will definitely have to go back. I recommend Montana to anyone who loves being outdoors and seeing natural beauty!
Hopefully you have enjoyed your educational experience. This was better than a PBS special, huh? You thought this was the Discovery channel for a second, didn’t you? Nay, it is merely my simple life as a blessed child of God.
In parting… I will leave you with a few photos of the Blackfoot River. (yes, the same one from A River Runs Through It. Yes, that is where the title of my blog came from. A great movie!!)
Tell me those don’t make your day brighter!!!