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Freedom Park pond

Rory Rice, 2, left, McKay Rice, 5, and Grady Rice, 3, of Burley fish at Freedom Park pond, on May 23, 2018.

BURLEY— A Heyburn man who has spent several years working toward revamping the Freedom Park trout pond is holding a fundraiser dinner for more improvements to the site.

“We have our crosshairs set on getting a pavilion built,” said Richard Kicklighter, who has spearheaded the improvements at the city-owned pond for several years.

The pond re-opened last spring after workers dug out years of sludge, enlarged it and made the spring-fed pond deeper. But in June, the pond experienced a major setback when hundreds of fish died after being planted there by Idaho Fish and Game.

“There was a multi-agency effort to find out why it happened but we were not able to identify a smoking gun,” Idaho Fish and Game regional Fishery Manager Doug Megargle said.

Megargle said the agencies, which included the city’s water quality team, the Idaho Department of Agriculture, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and Fish and Game, ran tests but were unable to determine a cause.

The agencies ruled out oxygen issues and temperature and couldn’t identify any lightning strikes that occurred in the area.

Tests did not find any chemicals in the soil or water.

“We couldn’t identify anything that would have killed those fish in that fishery,” Megargle said.

The agency plans to restock the pond in the future.

“We really prioritize these urban fishing opportunities,” he said.

Prior to Kicklighter’s efforts to restore the pond, it had declined and was unfishable, he said.

“He’s remedied that and he is really committed, and so are we,” Megargle said.

After some caged fish were placed in the pond to determine if it was habitable, 170 rainbow trout were put in the pond a couple of weeks ago and have not died, said Kicklighter, who is monitoring the pond.

“I don’t know who was more disappointed when that happened, us or Fish and Game,” Kicklighter said. “That was a real bump in the road.”

Kicklighter said he and partner David Bartlome are now working to raise about $18,000 to build a pavilion.

Restrooms that have already been paid for will be installed prior to the June 1 community pond party, which they hope will become an annual event.

Other planned improvements including draining the pond one more time and digging it out from its current 14 feet to 20 feet. Live fresh shrimp will be planted to give the fish something to eat. A walkway around the pond and a handicap accessible fishing ramp are also planned.

Three picnic tables were donated through a Boy Scout project and Kicklighter would like to put in some barbecue grills and a fire ring where people can roast marshmallows.

They will also plant grass.

“We expect it to take several years to get it all completed,” he said. “I really love this community and I’d like to see it turn into a blue-ribbon trout pond.”

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