The outstanding success of the Ennis-area O’Dell Creek Restoration Project, which began 17 years ago, is recognized with a NorthWestern Energy-commissioned painting by renowned Montana artist Monte Dolack.

The original artwork “Restoring Our Waters” is on display at the Ennis Chamber of Commerce. All proceeds from the sale of prints of the work will be donated to Madison Farm to Fork, which in partnership with the Madison Conservation District and the Ennis School District, created the Gardens, Resources, Outdoors, Wildlife and Watershed (GROWW) program for youth.

The O’Dell Creek Project began in the early 2000s to repair damage that began in the 1950s when the area was ditched to expand usable land for agriculture. In doing so, a unique wetland was partially drained and damaged. 

Since then, more than 14 miles of creek channel has been restored and 815 acres of wetlands created, resulting in improvements to an important tributary to the Madison River. The results have included fishery improvements and a re-establishment of wetland obligate species.

“We all want to see an environmental win, which is what we have with this project,” said NorthWestern Energy Director of Environmental & Lands Permitting & Compliance Mary Gail Sullivan. “When the hydro electric dams were relicensed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the privilege of generating electricity on Montana rivers, there was an obligation to fund environmental and recreational projects.”

That funding, along with the need at O’Dell Creek and most importantly, willing partners in the landowners, were the ingredients for a successful project, Sullivan said.

“This has been a great journey and a great example of what cooperation can accomplish when all are working toward a common goal,” said Jeff Laszlo, the fourth-generation owner and managing partner of the Granger Ranches, one of two landowner partners in the project. “We are a working ranch producing cattle and crops, we continue to learn and work to improve operations in a synergistic way that serves both conservation and production agriculture.”

Dolack’s piece overlooks meandering O’Dell Creek from a bluff, with trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes and other wildlife.

“This is how it should be,” Dolack said. “We can all work together. I was delighted to be able to bring whatever I can to this project, so there’s at least a visual that ideally would sum up what we’re trying to do.”

Madison Food to Fork Chair Kaye Suzuki confirmed Dolack’s Restoring Our Water piece does just that.

“This makes me emotional, this is exactly what conversation work can be, should be,” Suzuki said.

“The heart of our electric generation in Montana is our hydro system that is an environmental, recreational and cultural asset for the state and indeed for the nation,” said NorthWestern Energy Chief Executive Officer Bob Rowe. “Our Montana electric generation portfolio is 69% carbon free. Hydro resources make up more than 40% of that portfolio. A NorthWestern Energy priority is being a good steward of natural and cultural resources at our run-of-the-river dams in Montana. Success depends on great projects like O’Dell Creek, that are made possible and made better through partnerships such as this one.”


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