Big Spring Creek Restoration Project breaks ground

Charlie Denison

Mark Machler breaks ground on the Big Spring Creek Restoration Project Thursday morning, driving his uncle George’s 1945 Caterpillar tractor originally used to straighten the creek 55 years ago.
Photo by Charlie Denison


More than 30 people gathered off Highway 191 near the Fergus County Fairgrounds Thursday morning for one of the most highly anticipated events in Big Spring Creek history.

After 22 years of supporters campaigning for funds and encouraging the community to rally behind it, the Big Spring Creek Restoration Project finally took off. It did so in historic fashion, as Mark Machler – nephew of George Machler (the man who straightened Big Spring Creek in 1961) got on a caterpillar and broke ground.

Mark didn’t ride just any caterpillar. That’d be too easy. Instead, he fixed up George’s old 1945 Caterpillar tractor and dug it into the dirt, causing a raucous applause by the Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Trout Unlimited representatives, friends, relatives and community supporters there to witness.

“It’s a story to end all stories,” said Clay Dunlap, a dedicated member of the Big Spring Creek Watershed Committee. “This is really remarkable.”

Although MK Weeden Construction, Inc. will not start on the project until late August or early September, the momentum is evident, and the celebration is only beginning.

“There are all kinds of positive benefits to come from this,” Fish, Wildlife and Parks Biologist Clint Smith told those in attendance. “Thank you all for your help and support.”

Smith is the third FWP biologist to work on this project. He credited his predecessor, Ann Tews, for her hard work on moving the project forward.

Following in her footsteps, Smith continued to push the project, and was able to help Machler, FWP Lands Program Manager Darlene Edge and others receive the funding they needed to get the project off the ground.

This was no easy task, especially for Machler, who said he couldn’t have done it without the support of the community. Speaking to the crowd before getting on the tractor, Machler said he is particularly grateful for Edge, who has worked with him on the restoration since 1994.

“[Edge] kept me going all these years,” Machler said. “There have been a lot of pitfalls, but she’s been there to tell me not to give up, and now here we are.”

A lot of the drawbacks moving forward with the project were financial, Machler said, but lately agencies stepped up to the plate:  FWP agreed to cover two thirds of the funds needed for the million-dollar project. NRCS, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and the Fergus County Conservation District, Trout Unlimited, the Watershed Committee and others also played a big role in setting the stage for the ground breaking.

“There isn’t one person who can take credit for this,” Edge told those at the site Thursday. “There were a lot of people and a lot of agencies involved in making this happen. It’s a total community effort, and we’ve done it. Now let’s see some dirt move.”

Although one person does not deserve all the credit, community leader and Big Spring Creek enthusiast Don Pfau – who was one of the first to express opposition to George Machler’s decision to straighten the creek – said he was proud of Mark for his hard work, dedication and enthusiasm making sure the restoration project saw the light of day.

“It’s really something to see the creek come back this way with a third-generation Machler,” Pfau said. “A lot of times you don’t see people push to make this kind of change and I’ve been amazed with Mark’s attitude and leadership. Without him, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Getting in the Caterpillar and moving the dirt, Machler said the moment was amazing and he is thankful to see it coming to fruition.

“I really appreciate everyone coming out, especially those who traveled a long distance,” Machler said. “This is something special.”





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