Recognizing the Rivers

Local celebrations and activities planned for 50th anniversary of Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

By Tristan Scott
Fall colors along the North Fork Flathead River. Beacon File Photo

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and a raft of events and activities are slated to launch this month to observe the milestone of a landmark decision that helped furnish protections on a suite of Montana waterways — the three forks of the Flathead River and the White Cliffs stretch of the Missouri.

Organized in part by Glacier Guides and Glacier Raft Company, which operates near West Glacier, the suite of events to observe the historic Act are well suited for the Flathead River system, where the idea for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was born as a way to safeguard certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values in a free-flowing state for the enjoyment of present and future generations.

The Middle Fork Flathead River originates in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and flows 98 miles to its confluence with the North Fork Flathead River near Columbia Falls. In the 1950s, famed wildlife biologist John Craighead was fighting the proposed Spruce Park Dam, which would have backed the river up 11 miles, writing that wild rivers were a “species close to extinction” and were needed “for recreation and education of future generations.”

The dam was ultimately defeated, and Craighead went on to spearhead a movement that grew into the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, a law preserving “certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.”

On Oct. 12, 1976, President Gerald Ford signed a bill into law that protected 219 miles of the North, South and Middle forks of the Flathead River.

“The Middle Fork Flathead is a nationally important river,” said Darwon Stoneman, owner of Glacier Raft Co., which he’s operated near West Glacier since 1976. “Americans come from all over the country and tourists come from all over the world to have a life-changing adventure on this wild river that forms the southern boundary of Glacier National Park. Its protection is critical in supporting the livelihoods of myself and many others who call this valley home.”

Last year, the Middle Fork was named among the nation’s most endangered waterways due to the threat posed by trains carrying combustible oil, which conservation groups and local stakeholders warn could lead to severe spills and explosions.

The Washington, D.C.-based environmental group American Rivers said the designation shines a spotlight on the threat that oil train derailments pose to the river’s water quality, the corridor’s suite of fish and wildlife species, and the nationally significant Wild and Scenic values.

“As we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 2018, we must insist that federal protections for designated rivers are upheld,” Kascie Herron, Northern Rockies Conservation Associate for American Rivers, said. “It’s time to re-commit ourselves to safeguarding our last, best rivers, and we must start at the birthplace of Wild and Scenic Rivers, the Middle Fork Flathead.”

Here are upcoming events to bring attention to the history of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and its local significance.

Wild Rivers Film Tour

April 5: Livingston, Shane Lalani Center

April 9: Billings, Art House Cinema

April 11: Bozeman, Rialto

April 12: Big Sky, Lone Peak Cinema

April 13: Red Lodge, Roman Theater

April 19: Columbia Falls, La Salle Grange

April 26: Missoula, Roxy Theater

May 10: Ennis, Madison Theater

For additional details visit http://greateryellowstone.org/events/2017/3/8/wild-rivers-film-tour

Rafting for Refuse

Since 1997, Glacier Guides and Montana Raft Co. have been organizing this annual river clean up in West Glacier, converging every Saturday in June on the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

This year, the public can learn more about the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act at a Festival and Speaker Series June 16. Beginning at 1 p.m. after Rafting for Refuse, featured speakers from American Rivers, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, and the Flathead National Forest will be on hand to discuss the importance of the act.

The Festival and Speaker Series event is free and open to the public. Rafting for Refuse is also free but requires advance registration. Call the Glacier Guides and Montana Raft office to sign up at (406) 387-5555.

For more information, visit https://glacierguides.com/about-us/rafting-for-refuse/

Glacier National Park Star Party Float

To observe the anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Glacier Guides and Montana Raft are organizing the Glacier National Park Star Party Float, a two-day trip down the North Fork Flathead River.

Last year, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park became the world’s first transboundary International Dark Sky Park, allowing visitors to enjoy the region’s star-studded skies without interference from light pollution.

The float’s Aug. 12 launch date coincides with the peak of the 2018 Perseids Meteor Shower, a prolific celestial event related to the comet Swift-Tuttle.

Dates: Sunday, Aug. 12 departure. Return Monday, Aug. 13. Reservations are required well in advance of departure.

Difficulty: Moderate

Trip Duration: 2 days

Price: $625 per person

Other Expenses: Does not include 7 percent River User Fee or gratuity

More Info: https://glacierguides.com/