Long Time Coming - Big Spring Creek Restoration Project to begin July 7
Don Pfau of Lewistown reflects on when George Machler straightened Spring Creek by the fairgrounds in 1961. Fifty years later, an effort is being made to restore the creek and turn it back into the recreational site it once was.
Photo by Charlie Denison
In eight days, the highly anticipated Machler Big Spring Creek Restoration Project will begin, more than doubling the current length of the damaged section of the creek near the Fergus County Fairgrounds.
According to Lewistown native Don Pfau, who wasn’t a fan of the decision to straighten the creek in 1961, this project is a “long time coming,” as Spring Creek will once again be the pride and joy of Central Montana.
“When you think about what most people here are proud of, it’s the water,” Pfau said. “We are proud of our drinking water and we are proud of where it comes from: Big Spring Creek. For years, Big Spring Creek has been a fisherman’s paradise. It’s something spectacular for the entire community.”
This being the case, it was hard for Pfau to agree with the decision to straighten the creek way back when, converting the area from 6,300 feet of stream to 2,500 feet, although he understood the reasoning behind it.
“George Machler wanted to provide more affordable housing on his land for employees of Boeing moving to town to build missiles,” Pfau said. “It was a money-making deal.”
Although some were on Pfau’s side, he said his stance was not a popular one at the time.
“I got cussed at a lot when I was trying to stop the straightening,” he said.
For the Machlers, however, the straightening paid off, as a trailer park – now known as Mountain Acres RV Park and Campground – was built and many trailers were occupied.
“The town was full back then,” Pfau said. “The business in Lewistown was up 50 percent. Missiles were being made clear to Utica and north to Roy. It was a great time for Central Montana.”
But all things must come to an end, and, eventually, Boeing left and George passed, but his nephew, Mark Machler, bought the land in 1994.
At that time, Mark’s father, John, came up with an idea.
“My dad was George’s little brother, and he helped with the straightening of Spring Creek,” Mark said. “He always regretted it and, once I inherited the place, my dad said, ‘maybe we should fix it.’”
In the beginning, Mark and John didn’t get much support for this plan, but people like Pfau began stepping up.
By 2002, Fish, Wildlife and Parks were also on board and the stream restoration and habitat conservation became a full-blown community effort.
And on July 7, Mark will step into his uncle’s 1945 Caterpillar Tractor – the same one used to straighten the creek 55 years ago – and will begin the restoration.
Being the one to lead the effort means a great deal to Mark, he said, as he is not just restoring the creek, but he’s also restoring the Machler name and fulfilling a promise to his father.
“My dad didn’t live to see it, but I know he believed it would happen, and I wanted to make sure it did,” Mark said. “The alterations shouldn’t have happened to begin with, but as long as we can backtrack and fix it, it’s going to be OK.”
Like Mark, Pfau also has a great sense of pride for the project, as he’s been “bound and determined” to restore the creek since day one.
“This beautification project should bring back a lot of Spring Creek’s natural beauty,” Pfau said. “It will take years for the beauty to come back, but at least we are getting a start.”
Those interested in coming to the ground-breaking ceremony should gather by the Machler home on Crowley and Highway 191 at 11 a.m. Thursday, July 7.