Wild and Scenic Stamp Features Flathead River

New stamps celebrate unspoiled waterways, including Middle Fork Flathead and the Missouri

By Tristan Scott
The 12 stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Courtesy Photo

As universal ambassadors, postage stamps in the United States have long served to showcase national treasures like politicians, wildlife and historical events.

Now, with the debut of the U.S. Postal Service’s “Forever Stamps” in the 2019 collection, which commemorates the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, river lovers can stamp their mail and share a piece of Northwest Montana — the Flathead River is included among the dozen rivers featured in the panel of stamps.

The Flathead River stamp features a photo taken by naturalist Tim Palmer on the Middle Fork Flathead River (it’s actually the three forks of the Flathead that are designated Wild and Scenic) and shows off the stunning burnished bottom stones that animate this glittering band of blue-ribbon trout fishing and scenic floating.

Palmer, of Oregon, is the author of “Wild and Scenic Rivers: An American Legacy,” and shot the photo of the Middle Fork for the book, not knowing it would ever end up on a stamp.

Because the stamps will bring greater awareness to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, Palmer said he’s proud to contribute to the project.

“The Flathead’s clean water and wildness are extraordinary in today’s world, and they might not exist if not for one of the great achievements in U.S. conservation history: the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,” he said.

Palmer has four photos featured in the panel of Wild and Scenic Rivers, with stamps of the Snake River in Idaho and Wyoming, the Flathead River, the Skagit River in Washington and the Ontonagon River in Michigan. The other eight featured rivers are the Merced River in California, the Owyhee River in Oregon, the Koyukuk River in Alaska, the Niobrara River in South Dakota and Nebraska, the Missouri River in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, the Deschutes River in Oregon, the Tlikakila River in Alaska, and the Clarion River in Pennsylvania.

“The miniature works of art illustrated in the 2019 stamp program offer something for everyone’s interest about American history and culture,” U.S. Postal Service Stamp Services Executive Director Mary-Anne Penner stated in a release announcing the stamps. “From legendary poet Walt Whitman to the entertainment genius of Gregory Hines to the majestic beauty of our Wild and Scenic Rivers, this program is diverse and wide ranging and tells America’s story on stamps.”

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 fought 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.

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.

Scott Bosse, Northern Rockies Director at American Rivers, said he hopes the stamps help educate the public about the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the prominent role the Flathead River played in its birth.

“I’m not much of a stamp collector, but I love Wild and Scenic rivers enough that I may have to buy this entire run of stamps,” he said.

Other stamps featured in the 2019 Forever series, according to the release, include Gregory Hines, cactus flowers, Alabama, Marvin Gaye, the USS Missouri, post office murals, Walt Whitman, frogs, state and county fairs and the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

Purchase the stamps through the Postal Store at usps.com/shop, by calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724), by mail through USA Philatelic, or at Post Office locations nationwide. Forever Stamps will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1-ounce price.