Spruce tree in Big Springs draws concerns

No one apparently witnessed when this spruce tree made a big splash into Big Springs, but few visitors could ignore it this summer. Joyce Edlefsen for the Post Register

ISLAND PARK — Sometime in late fall or early spring, a great big spruce tree toppled into one of the most treasured sites and resources in Island Park.

Unlike most trees that fall in the forest, this one has been noticed.

The spruce fell into Big Springs, a main source of the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. Gurgling 120 million gallons of 52 degree water out of the ground every day, the springs also are treasured for the huge fish that traditionally hang out under a bridge across the springs’ outlet, the river.

With a charming cabin and water wheel built at the edge of the spring in the 1930s by Johnny Sack, the scene is one of the most photographed spots in Island Park.

So people noticed when the huge tree fell nearly across the springs from Johnny Sack’s front yard.

Liz Davy, the Ashton-Island Park District Ranger for the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, and the Fremont County Parks and Recreation Department got numerous concerned calls, mostly from local people alarmed about what the tree might do to the springs and to the photogenic scene.

Davy said she and her staff, a hydrologist and a fish biologist considered a course of action, in the end deciding against doing anything. The hydrologist could see the tree was doing no damage to the springs. And the tree actually is creating fish habitat, giving fish extra shade and cover.

Getting the tree out of the water likely could cause more damage to the spring and fishery than leaving it, since the water there is too deep for wading, and there were concerns about fuel oil leaks from equipment and about safety for the workers if a boat were used.

Davy said she also asked a logger how he would go about getting the tree out of the water, and he had no idea.

To ease concerns the Forest Service posted a photo of the tree and the reasons for leaving it in the water at the Johnny Sack Cabin where visitors could see it. That seemed to work.

Davy said she hopes winter will help break off some of the branches and reduce some of the shock.

Meanwhile, the big tree is likely to continue to surprise repeat visitors, but they might find comfort in the springs’ designation since 1980 as a National Natural Landmark, emphasis on the “natural.”

From the plaque: “This site possesses exceptional value as an illustration of the nation’s natural heritage and contributes to a better understanding of the environment.”