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Seeds that stayed dormant around O’Dell Creek for half a century are starting to sprout native plants.

The vegetation came back naturally after public and private partners spent over a decade restoring the stream’s channel and surrounding wetlands.

On a bluff overlooking O’Dell Creek, renowned Montana artist Monte Dolack on Thursday unveiled a painting of the meandering spring creek in the Madison Valley.

The painting features a vista of the creek rich with trumpeter swans, pronghorn and sandhill cranes beneath a fall alpine glow. A rabbit is tucked beneath a shrub in a corner and Sphinx Mountain looms tall in the background.

Monte Dolak Painting of O'Dell Creek Restoration

Monte Dolack's newest painting, commissioned by NorthWestern Energy, of the O'Dell Creek restoration project on Thursday, May 6, 2021, at a family ranch south of Ennis.

NorthWestern Energy commissioned Dolack to paint the creek in celebration of a collaborative restoration project that has received awards from the Society of Ecological Restoration and Environmental Law Institute for Private Landowner Stewardship.

Dolack’s painting will be displayed at the Ennis Chamber of Commerce before it moves to Jack Creek Preserve around Big Sky after the peak of the fishing season, according to NorthWestern Energy CEO Bob Rowe.

Monte Dolak Painting of O'Dell Creek Restoration

O'Dell Creek runs through Jeff Laszlo's family ranch south of Ennis on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

All proceeds from print sales will go to Madison Farm to Fork, an Ennis-based program that puts on summer camps and other resources for children to learn about conservation and sustainable food systems.

The nonprofit partners with several local conservation organizations including the Ennis School District, Madison Ranchlands Group and the Jack Creek Preserve, said Janet Bean-Dochnahl, Madison Farm to Fork vice president.

“Conservation is so important in where we are and where we’re going,” said Kaye Suzuki, president of Madison Farm to Fork. “We are not inheriting our land from our ancestors. We’re borrowing it from our children.”

Monte Dolak Painting of O'Dell Creek Restoration

Monte Dolack poses for a photo with his newest painting, commissioned by NorthWestern Energy, of the O'Dell Creek restoration project on Thursday, May 6, 2021, at a family ranch south of Ennis.

In the 1950s, O’Dell Creek was ditched and partially drained to expand land for agriculture. At the time, wetlands that sustained a myriad of bird and plant species were often considered swamps or bogs, according to Jeff Laszlo, a fourth generation rancher who oversees operations at Granger Ranches south of Ennis.

In 2004, the O’Dell Project was launched to repair the creek’s channel and the surrounding wetland habitat. NorthWestern Energy and Laszlo, the fourth generation of his family to oversee operations at Granger Ranches, helped lead restoration efforts along with numerous partners. O’Dell Creek runs through Laszlo’s property.

Partners on the project include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Madison River Foundation, the Trust for Public Lands and the Montana Land Reliance.

Monte Dolak Painting of O'Dell Creek Restoration

From left, Jeff Laszlo, Monte Dolack, Robert Rowe and Mary Gail Sullivan attend an unveiling of an artwork, painted by Monte Dolack and commissioned by NorthWestern Energy, of the O'Dell Creek restoration project on Thursday, May 6, 2021.

NorthWestern Energy has funded 63 monitoring, habitat restoration, species introduction and miscellaneous projects at the creek since 2000, according to the public utility company. Its total investment in the work is $2.9 million. Another $830,000 in matching funds has come from partners.

Thanks to the restoration efforts, valuable habitat throughout the length of the creek has been repaired and protected. Laszlo said he can see the work continuing for another 10 years.

Granger Ranches, Montana FWP, NorthWestern Energy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been involved in efforts to reintroduce trumpeter swans to the wetlands. They’ve also worked to re-established fluvial arctic grayling to the creek, as it is part of the species’ historic range.

So far, nearly 15 miles of creek channel have been restored along with at least 700 acres of new wetlands. Better habitat for native birds, plants, fish and vegetation is drawing more wildlife and diverse vegetation, according to NorthWestern Energy.

Monte Dolak Painting of O'Dell Creek Restoration

NorthWestern Energy CEO Robert Rowe and Montana artist Monte Dolack carefully transport Dolack's painting of the O'Dell Creek restoration project at a press conference Thursday, May 6, 2021, south of Ennis.

O’Dell Creek now supports approximately 120 bird species, including 18 Montana species of concern, the public utility wrote. Just after the project began, around 30 bird species and 3 avian species of concern were observed along the creek.

Throughout the life of the O’Dell Project, Laszlo has learned about finding synergy between ranching and conservation, he said.

“Protecting and restoring the land is a benefit to all species that use it,” he said. “What we’re doing here has a global impact.”

Monte Dolak Painting of O'Dell Creek Restoration

Monte Dolack unveils his newest painting, commissioned by NorthWestern Energy, of the O'Dell Creek restoration project on Thursday, May 6, 2021, at a family ranch south of Ennis.

Part of the challenge of painting O’Dell Creek was being true to the place, Dolack said of his artwork. He tried to combine multiple time periods and elements into one picture, though his vision was based on a October visit to the creek.

“My job was to come here, look at it, learn about it and try to at some point reveal the magic of the place, because it is an extraordinary place,” he said.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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