SEELEY LAKE – A rough trail skirting Tupper’s Lake is becoming a beaten path.
The second annual Revive and Thrive event on Sunday drew 40 volunteers and about 200 people celebrating the Clearwater-Blackfoot Project. It's part of The Nature Conservancy's $85 million purchase of more than 117,000 acres around Placid Lake and the Gold Creek drainage last year.
The inaugural work party and celebration took place last fall at Primm’s Meadow in the Gold Creek drainage, a grove of old-growth ponderosa pine. This year, volunteers grabbed their tools and headed to Tupper's Lake, 2½ miles south of Seeley Lake and 2 miles north of Placid Lake.
Nature Conservancy associate director of philanthropy Helen Jenkins called the lake a "little slice of the world." Volunteers worked for a couple of hours Sunday morning to smooth out the new trail on the east side of the lake, work on the trail on the west side, and install a "beaver deceiver'' at the culvert on the lake's south end.
"It's a common comment we get ... that people don't know it's here," Jenkins said of Tupper's Lake.
The east trail was a road until West Slope Excavating came in and obliterated it. On Sunday, the remnants of the obliteration made for a bumpy walk from the north parking lot to the south end of the lake – until the volunteers went to work. By lunchtime, it was smoother and a much easier hike.
"It's nice to see things happening in an area like this that's not usually on people's radar," said volunteer Carol Fulton.
The goal isn't to increase traffic at the lake, officials said.
"We don't want to change the amount of use," said Nature Conservancy Western Montana land protection director Chris Bryant. "We wanted to find a solution to mitigate the effects of the beavers, but still keep that natural process going."
Beavers cause the most headaches here, which is why Nature Conservancy Western Montana land steward Steve Kloetzel worked with seven volunteers to install a beaver deceiver at the culvert at the south end of the lake.
For a long time, there were issues with beavers plugging the old culvert, causing water to jump the creek channel and wash out nearby roads. So a new, extended culvert was installed, this one with a water control structure and multiple holes in the culvert.
On Sunday, the volunteers used metal fencing, called calf panels, T-posts and wire to construct a triangle-shaped beaver deceiver surrounding the culvert. Each side is about 14 feet long.
"The idea (with the holes) is the beavers can't hear the water flowing," Kloetzel said. "The sound attracts them."
The hope is that pulling one over on the beavers will raise the lake three feet by this time next year, making it healthier for the cutthroat trout stocked by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
"The idea is to let the beavers live in the lake, but they won't hurt the roads and the culvert," Kloetzel said. "It's an extra security measure. Then if they want to dam, they have to go around the entire surface of the cage."
The beaver deceiver construction also lent itself to jokes, with one volunteer asking if the beavers had been notified and channeling their response:"Well, I'll be 'dam'ed ..."
Bryant and several other volunteers were sprucing up the east trail, using McLeod rakes to pound the trail flat and filling in holes with dirt.
The beavers were a problem here, too. The outflow caused the former road to wash out and erode into the lake. Portions of the roads to Placid and Seeley lakes, as well as a logging road south of Tupper's, would wash out, too.
Jenkins said Nature Conservancy also regraded roads leading to Tupper's from Placid and Seeley lakes.
"We wanted to find a solution to mitigate the effects of the beavers but still keep the natural process going," Bryant said.
Plus, the road was redundant, since there is already another road running nearby to a parking area at the lake's south end. Bryant said Nature Conservancy included the motorized vehicle community in the discussion, "since removal of open road is always controversial."
Also helping on Sunday were members of the Montana Conservation Corps, Blackfoot Challenge, and Five Valleys Land Trust.
"The point of these kinds of events is to get people out on the ground, to build a constituency for conservancy, and to get people outside and celebrating the conservation we're doing in western Montana," Bryant said.
They also plan to spruce up the camp site on the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation section on the north third of the lake, as well as clear out garbage.
"A lot of people care about these places, but they're alone," Bryant said. "When you get a lot of people in a spot together, you can slowly change how the whole community treats it."