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Landowner John Phillips of River Falls places the wooden frame of a lunker structure into Parker Creek as John Sours, DNR Trout Habitat Project Coordinator, looks on. Dan Wilcox photo

Wild Side: Exstream makeover

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The Extreme Makeover television series started in 2002 and ended in 2007. The episodes depicted men and women undergoing "extreme makeovers" with plastic surgery, exercise, new cosmetics and clothing to give them a new appearance. The shows didn't focus much on how the made-over people functioned afterwards in their families, communities, and their work.

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Parker Creek, north and east of River Falls in Kinnickinnic Township is getting an "exstream" makeover to restore its function as habitat for brook trout and other native aquatic species.

Parker Creek is a small, cold, spring-fed tributary of the Kinnickinnic River. The creek is home to native brook trout and introduced brown trout. Over the years, sediment accumulated in the valley bottom, cattle grazed and tromped down the creek banks, the creek channel became wide and shallow and choked with tag alders. Sediment in the creek channel covered the gravel needed by trout for spawning sites.

I went out to Parker Creek last Tuesday, May 12, to help out on the project. I met landowner John Phillips of River Falls, John Sours, DNR Trout Stream Habitat Project Coordinator based in Eau Claire, DNR Fisheries Technician Kevin Pankow of Baldwin, and Trout Unlimited volunteers Greg Dietl of Woodbury, Randy Arnold of Minnetonka, Chuck Goosen and Dan Colligan of Hudson, Hans Jung of Center City, Minn., and Gary Horvath of River Falls.

Sours and Dietl explained that the trout stream habitat project on Parker Creek is a real partnership between the landowners along the creek, the DNR, St. Croix County, and Trout Unlimited. The total project cost will be about $190,000 for 5,730 feet of stream. The project is being funded by St. Croix County through the Kinnickinnic River Priority Watershed Project and with DNR Trout Stamp money. Trout Unlimited members are providing much of the labor.

The project includes purchase of construction and perpetual fishing access easements from landowners along the stream, removal of brush and trees along the stream channel, grading back eroded banks, placing rock and lunker structures to re-establish a deeper and narrower stream channel, and replanting the streambank areas disturbed by construction.

Part of the crew was busy sowing grass seed and distributing straw mulch. Others were building the frames for lunker structures.

Lunker structures were developed in Wisconsin to stabilize stream banks and to provide habitat and cover for fish. Blocks made from short sections of logs are used as spacers. Heavy green oak planks are nailed to the tops and bottoms of the blocks, forming stringers. Oak planks are nailed to the tops and bottoms of the stringer boards which tie into the stream bank. We built about a dozen frames for lunker structures that evening. Phillips used his skid loader to place them into the stream.

The lunker structure frames are positioned along the edge of the stream channel on the outside of bends where river current will keep them free of sediment. The structure frames are pinned to the stream bed with rebar rods. Large rocks and sod are placed on top, tying the structure into the stream bank. The lunker structures provide sheltered habitat for trout and stabilize the stream banks.

The channel of Parker Creek is being reconfigured to be stable, provide better trout habitat and to pass flood flows without unraveling. Although this type of stream habitat project is not true river restoration (Parker Creek did not have lots of limestone rock and was not configured like that prior to development), it will provide much-improved habitat for trout and sport fishing opportunity.

The Parker Creek project is already looking good but there's more work to do. The DNR hopes to finish the project in June. Those interested in helping can show up on Tuesday afternoons starting at 4 p.m., weather permitting, 3.5 miles east of Hwy 65 on County Road J.

Bring gloves, eye protection and boots or waders. You can participate in a decades-long tradition of people helping to keep streams in the Kinnickinnic River watershed clean, clear and cold.

Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at wildside@rivertowns.net.

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