It’s not every fall day in Montana that a couple of people will haul a floating island across the pond.
The 1,200-square-foot, vegetation-covered floating island in the duck pond at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds had been in the wrong place for about a year, lodged at the pond’s outlet on its north end. But Saturday, members of the Lake Helena Watershed Group put it back were it belongs, close to the pond’s east shore where its vegetation, along with a wind-powered aerator, is intended to help process some of the excess nutrients in the pond, reducing the rotten-egg smell and slimy consistency that can sometimes come during the summer.
Bob Alexander, the group’s chair, and Dick Sloan dislodged the island, the bottom of its aerator pinned against the pond bottom, with a pole. Gordon Levin and Matthew Kent paddled a canoe and tugged the island to its proper spot. They then lashed cables between the island and cinder blocks and threw the blocks overboard to create a better anchor than the one that let the island slip away last time.
“It’s holding together pretty well,” Levin said. “It’s completely covered in vegetation. I think it’s doing what it was intended to do.”
The island was launched in 2008, with U.S. Sen. Max Baucus on hand and picking the site in the lake. The “Baucus island,” as some of the watershed group members now call it, aims to somewhat offset the effects of the numerous birds that live near or pass through the pond and the surrounding area.
The birds leave a lot of “nutrients,” behind, according to Alexander and Jennifer McBroom, coordinator of the group and for outreach with the county Water Quality Protection District.
McBroom was among those who assembled the island back in 2008. It’s made of recycled materials and a metal frame, its main surface resembling a Brillo pad, with holes for the plants to grow through, said McBroom.
The roots of the plants help process the excess nutrients and a windmill up top powers a pump that aerates the water, like a pump in a fish tank.
It wasn’t clear if that was working Saturday, because there was barely the slightest hint of wind.
The island also provides a place in the middle of the water for the waterfowl to alight and walk. And sure enough, no sooner had the island been lashed into place and the canoeists headed to shore when a flock of geese swam out from a sheltered area and hung around by it.
The group also picked up multiple bags of trash, including remnants of a transient’s camp in the woods on the pond’s east side.
And there were cigarette butts. The volunteers found what they figured is a frequent teen smoking area on the east end of the parking lot south of the pond.
The watershed group works to bring various entities together for local watershed health and undertakes weed control, restoration and cleanup efforts around the area. It will work with landowners on restoration of Prickly Pear Creek in the vicinity of the fishing access to be developed by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks north of York Road.
The group’s next meeting is Oct. 17 at the Kleffner Ranch, where the Montana Environmental Trust Group will discuss its ongoing rerouting of Prickly Pear Creek through the Asarco site in East Helena.