By Robert Lucke
This Memorial Day while many folks will be cleaning graveyards and decorating graves, one area resident will be busy watering trees around Beaver Creek Reservoir in Beaver Creek Park south of Havre.
He may not be a Johnny Appleseed because he mainly plants spruce, but Gary Hillson is doing his part to beautify the park and keep the environment pure.
I inquired about planting trees around Beaver Creek Reservoir back in 1993 but I didnt know who to talk to and didnt get very far, said Hillson. Last year though I talked to John Goebel (chairman of the Hill County Park Board) and he told me I could start planting so here I am.
Hillson figures he has planted around 150 tress altogether. Most that he has planted are spruce seedlings or larger and all are on the east shore of the Reservoir from the face of the dam all the way to the Beaver Creek inlet.
Along with the trees that Hillson has planted come the water me signs. He figures that he has around 150 of them as well and people do come out to fish and camp and water his trees.
I have planted Colorado Blue Spruce and Black Hills Spruce and someone else came along and planted around ten birch, said Hillson.
Hillsons love for Beaver Creek Reservoir goes back to 1988 when he came to Havre from Minnesota to work at the radio station.
John Mosher at the radio station turned me on to the lake when he told me about the thirty pound Northerns they were catching out here, Hillson said with a smile. I have never yet caught one but I know they are out there.
Hillson digs a hole for his trees, plants them and surrounds them with a rock boundary marking where tiny seedlings are, then adds to the mix his water me sign all the while watching his bobber out in the lake. Fishing while he is planting trees is his way of really enjoying the lake while adding to its beauty.
How could he start such an ambitious project in the first place?
I just felt like doing something for the area, Hillson continued. You know I take fish out of the reservoir and I found I was not giving back anything in return. This seems to be a nice way to say thank you.
Trees come from several sources and so far have all been donated to the project by like minded individuals.
One day I wrote a letter to Larry Adams and asked him to donate a tree. He said he had a whole field of trees he would donate if I would dig them up and bring them out here, said Hillson.
Randy Graves of the North Central Montana turf committee donated a great many spruce seedlings for the project.
Jody Peters, Havre wildlife biologist with the Bureau of Land Management has been very helpful in suggesting species of trees that would be compatible with the reservoir area.
There is a place in Great Falls called The Great Falls Stream Team. They are doing the paper work for a grant to obtain more trees for Beaver Creek Reservoir, Hillson said.
Other projects after this one involve various plantings around Beaver Creek Reservoir.
After I finish this side I will probably start on the west side of the dam. And then I would like to build a campground to take the pressure off some of the rest of the park, Hillson said. This project could take years and years unless they run out of fish in the lake. Then I will probably have to go somewhere else so tell them (MFWP) to keep planting fish.
There is more to this project for Hillson then just planting trees and fishing.
This is kind of a spiritual place for me too, said Hillson. I come out here and talk to God. It reminds me of an old saying, It is better to fish and think of God than to go to church and think of fishing.