Little McCormick Creek is a tributary of Ninemile Creek, located approximately ten miles upstream from Ninemile Creek’s confluence with the Clark Fork River. The watershed is 9,500 acres in size and is managed primarily by the Lolo National Forest. Little McCormick Creek was intensively placer mined for gold during the last century. More recently, a local miner conducted a large-scale operation on the Glory Hole claim from 1978 to 1997. In October of 1997, the miner removed his equipment, abandoned his claim and left the US Forest Service with 250 feet of diverted stream channel, one mile of mining spoil piles and a 15-20 foot high undercut bank that spans approximately sixty feet. The Forest Service could not initiate reclamation work, finding the miners’ $1,250 bond to be highly inadequate.
Historic mining and resource extraction has extensively altered the stream channel and altered stream flows on Little McCormick Creek. There is an estimated 503 tons of sediment entering Little McCormick Creek each year from unstable streambanks, and the base level of the valley bottom has been lowered a minimum of 12 feet. While the stream is not confined by dredge piles, the channel lacks a functional floodplain, is dewatered during most of the year and there is little remaining riparian vegetation in the disturbed materials. Because of these disturbances, Little McCormick Creek is listed on the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s 303(d) list of impaired waterbodies.
From 2008-2010, TU worked with the Lolo National Forest, Sierra Club and other partners to restore more than 2,500 feet of stream channel on Little McCormick Creek. Project objectives were to 1) create a more properly scaled channel that can transport discharge and bedload more efficiently 2) provide a more natural array of instream habitat including more and higher quality pools and added large wood debris 3) reduce the amount of fine sediment that is recruited annually from over-steep hillslopes, and; 4) improve fish migration through restored surface water connectivity.