GAIL SCHONTZLER, Chronicle Staff Writer
Mandeville Creek looks like a lowly ditch where it runs straight along the east edge of the Bozeman High School campus, but for years teacher Robin Hompesch has dreamed of turning it into an inviting, meandering stream.
After years of writing grants and months of meetings with volunteers, Hompesch and those who share her dream are finally ready to “bring the creek to life.”
In mid-August, they plan to break ground for the first phase of the “meander the Mandeville” project. Their ultimate goal is to create a winding, natural streambed, shaded by willows and trees, bounded by boulders, with handsome bridges and outdoor classrooms for students.
“It’s wonderful,” Hompesch said Tuesday. “So many people have volunteered incredible amounts of professional time – it’s so heartwarming.”
As a biology and wildlife ecology teacher, Hompesch said she tells students about the importance of water and riparian habitats in the arid West.
“I talk and talk,” she said, “and then students walk outside and see this creek that has been abused.”
The creek has been forced into a straight channel, hidden underground by culverts or exposed to the sun without shady vegetation, making it too warm for most trout.
“It’s very exciting to see it finally come to fruition,” said Abigail Breuer, a parent volunteer and range ecologist, who has shared Hompesch’s dream for years.
People willing to donate their professional skills have spent hundreds of hours meeting over the past year to plan the project, Breuer said. They also held design sessions with students and surveyed 400 students and teachers about what they’d like to see.
Phase 1 will be a bare bones project, she said. The plan is to create the new meandering streambed, put in boulders and plant riparian vegetation to prevent erosion. A long culvert will be removed and the hidden parts of the creek exposed to daylight.
They’ve raised a $25,000 grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation and $25,000 from the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department, plus smaller grants from the Sonoran Institute, Montana Trout Foundation and Gallatin Valley Land Trust.
The project’s website estimates that $72,000 has been raised toward the $192,000 cost of the first phase.
Hydrologist Scott Gillilan, a creek reconstruction expert, said he was recruited to volunteer when his daughter took Hompesch’s class. Gillilan said the entire project from Main Street to Durston Road would cost $367,000. Thanks to people donating services at no cost or low cost, he said, it will be possible to do the work for less, but fundraising is still important.
Money and materials are still needed for bridges, benches, trees, additional landscaping and outdoor classrooms. North of Lamme Street, Gillilan said, the space for the creek is quite narrow, so rather than creating meanders, the plan calls for lots of landscaping and boulders to give a more natural appearance.
Gallatin County Commissioner Steve White said he was “blown away” when he heard about the project. White was a senior in the Class of 1969 that dug a new channel for the creek to create an island in the southeast corner of campus.
Seniors hand-carried pickup loads of rocks to line the streambed, he said. Over the years, their new channel filled in, but that corner of campus remains attractive, with the creek, rocks and large shade trees. After that, however, the creek disappears under a dull stretch of flat lawn.
“I love it,” White said of the project. “I’m just thrilled they’re pulling it off.”
Other major volunteers and supporters are engineer Chris Wasia, Sime Construction, wetlands specialist Barbara Vaughn, landscape architect Amy Stefan and Megan Kempt of Bozeman High’s Parent Advisory Council.
To take better care of the creek, student clubs and teams will adopt sections to plant and keep up, Hompesch said. She said she hopes it will be finished in the next couple of years, joking that she can’t retire until it’s done.
Mandeville Creek, a spring creek, rises in fields just south of Kagy Boulevard and runs north through the Montana State University campus. At College Street it’s “entombed” under city streets, until it emerges at Bozeman High on its way to the East Gallatin River.
MSU was going to bury the creek in a culvert when it planned the new Ag Bioscience Building, but in 2007 creek advocates argued successfully to treat it as an attractive “amenity instead of a nuisance.” MSU installed a footbridge for students over the stream and volunteers cleaned wind-blown garbage from the creek.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2633.