MITCHELL — A two-year project is underway to revitalize Dry Spotted Tail Creek into a stream that would help support wetlands and trout spawning grounds.
Located just west of the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds in Mitchell, the 1,200 acres of river bottom land is owned by the local conservation group Platte River Basin Environments (PRBE).
Partnering in the project are Nebraska Game and Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited and the Nebraska Environmental Trust.
Dry Spotted Tail Creek is one of many “dry drains” dug by early farmers to return unused irrigation water to the river.
When irrigation first came to the valley, water was taken from the North Platte River to the highest point in the valley on both sides of the river. Over time, that caused the water table to rise up to 200 feet in some places.
Farmers facing waterlogged fields dug drains that were channelized directly back into the river.
PRBE wants to re-channel Dry Spotted Tail Creek to meander across the property, allowing for gravel streambeds that could serve as spawning grounds for the migratory strain of rainbow trout.
The stream’s new channel, which will travel about three-quarters of a mile on the property, would also create wetland habitat for ducks, geese and other wildlife.
“This is the first project of its kind in the state,” said Bob Smith, PRBE treasurer and property manager. “What we’re doing could be an example of what we’d like to do for other fresh water streams in our area. Most of the streams are just channels from a county road down to the river.”
PRBE board member Bruce Rolls said boulders of different sizes have been brought in to help stabilize the creek banks once they’ve been dug out. That will also help oxygenate the water, making it a more conducive area for fish.
Native grasses will also be planted along the creek bank to include native shrubs and trees, creating habitat for pheasants. Those plantings will be done early next year.
“This project will have the impact of creating a better wetlands area,” Smith said. “Just channelizing things doesn’t do a lot of good, but this will create a wetlands area as well as a trout stream. We also plan to open the area to hunting once it’s completed.”
Rolls said conventional wisdom names Rupert Bigsby, who had a fish hatchery on Lake Winter Creek, as the person who introduced a migrating strain of rainbow trout to the area in the 1940s.
The migrating strain of rainbow trout was hatched in gravel bottoms in streams along the river from Wyoming to Broadwater. The fish would grow and travel down to Lake McConaughy. When they reached about 5 pounds, they would head back upstream to spawn in the same creeks they came from.
“We’d like to see them come back,” Rolls said. “I think we need to work toward bringing back natural reproduction without having to stock the stream. In past years, area creeks were very active for trout.”
Most of the work to rechannel Dry Spotted Tail Creel should be completed by mid-September. PRBE is planning an open house at the site on Sept. 10.
A temporary diversion of the creek is planned to partially fill the new channel so engineers can identify any problems before water is released into the creek next spring.