Boggers’ fun flows downhill
Tue., Oct. 26, 2004
Stump Creek’s gravel bed once served as the nursery for young trout. Now, the Hayden Lake tributary has become a prime playground for local trucks and jeeps.
The creek has been rerouted in some stretches and now flows through deep, muddy truck tire ruts. Each storm sends torrents of mud downstream, suffocating aquatic life and turning Hayden Lake’s aquamarine waters to the color of coffee.
“This is some of the most extreme stream damage I’ve ever seen,” U.S. Forest Service hydrologist Rob Davies said during a visit to the creek Monday. Crushed cans of Busch Light beer were scattered across the mud. Charred logs and shredded shooting targets littered the few remaining patches of grass.
The Forest Service is desperately trying to prevent the trout stream from further becoming a monster-truck proving ground. The agency is cracking down on a local pastime known as mud bogging and has plans to block illegal access points to the stream and several other Hayden tributaries, including the main and north forks of Hayden Creek, Davies said.
Keeping trucks out of the creek won’t be easy. In the late 1990s, the Forest Service used giant boulders to block vehicle access to streamside meadows. “The barriers to keep people out became challenging obstacles,” Davies said.
A local rancher was so disgusted with the damage that he bulldozed barriers into an old National Forest access road. The waist-high dirt mounds turned out to be perfect for launching pickup trucks into the muddy pools.
“The berms just became more fun,” Davies said, as he walked along the slippery shore of a truck wallow. “Now, this is like mud bogging’s ultimate challenge.”
The off-road driving destroys streams and is dumping vast amounts of sediment into Hayden Lake. State officials say the lake is being threatened by sediment and excess nutrients, but much of the blame has been placed on unscrupulous development on the steep hills above the lake. Homesites carved into the slopes have unleashed torrents of mud during recent soggy months.
The lake’s typically clear waters have become a favorite for boaters and anglers. The Forest Service is working with the state to install stream quality monitoring technology before winter at the mouth of Hayden Creek.
As Davies surveyed some of the damage, the noise of a truck’s motor penetrated the cedar and hemlock forest. Davies and another Forest Service employee, Dave O’Brien, drove toward the sound and discovered three teenaged boys trying to free their Jeep Cherokee from muddy ruts.
“This is really something you shouldn’t be doing,” O’Brien told the boys, who stood staring at the ground with their hands in their pockets.
The Forest Service has written 10 tickets in the last two years for mud-bogging violations in the Hayden Creek area, but the boys apologized and said they did not know the action was illegal. The driver, a junior from Lakeland High School, explained his motivation for driving through the giant, deep puddles.
“To put your truck to the test,” he said. “Other people had done it, so we’re going to do it. We hear it’s a good place to go.”
The Forest Service is working with local off-road vehicle clubs to find a better place to drive through the mud, but O’Brien said North Idaho’s soils are easily washed away by the activity. Off-road driving is better suited for certain parts of Eastern Washington or places such as Moab, Utah, where exposed bedrock can handle the heavy impact.
A public education campaign is being planned to teach high school students about the dangers of turning streams into vehicle play areas. Projects are also in the works to block vehicle access to the streams that feed Hayden Lake, which are the most popular sites for mud boggers. Closures are the last resort, O’Brien said, “But we can’t tolerate this kind of abuse.”
With some help, the streams should be able to recover quickly, Davies said. The agency plans to spend $30,000 to fix Stump Creek by resculpting the stream bed, planting native grasses, installing a fence and blocking access with logs and boulders. Work also is planned for nearby Shamrock Meadows and Hayden Creek.
So long as the trucks stay out, the trout and clear water should return, Davies said.
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