Written by: The Clark Fork Coalition
Scan the Clark Fork watershed on any gorgeous day and you’ll see thousands of anglers, rafters, tubers, birders, hikers, and others in, on, and around the water. Zoom in and you’ll hear exultation at a big brown on the line, exasperation at another lost fly, laughter over a shared, river-cold beer, frustration at a jack-knifed trailer, giggles from a spontaneous water fight, high anxiety on a sketchy rapid, delight in the discovery of a secret fishing hole.
Our rivers are the backdrop to our best days – and some of our hardest. They can distill life to its essence and grab us in a moment, feeding our souls and keeping us coming back. You remember river days. Sheer joy – epic adventures – the immersion into what you love and the things that really matter.
So it can be easy to miss when something bigger is going on.
How big? Never-before big. Making history big. Our great-grand kids will still be talking about it big.
You see, this is no ordinary time for the Clark Fork. From its humble beginnings in the Deer Lodge Valley to its mighty green-grey depths in northern Idaho, it is being transformed as never before. Sure, there was the Ice Age. And floods and earthquakes. What makes now so special?
This time it’s not a force of nature altering the river’s course. Nor is it benign neglect, overuse, or intensive industrial activity contaminating floodplains and degrading and de-watering streams.
This time it’s us, making things right. Putting the pieces back together. Healing what was injured. Rebuilding what was lost. We are living in a unique time when the Clark Fork is, quite literally, being changed forever. And every one of us can be a part of it.
The “it,” here, is not just some warm and fuzzy feel-good. It’s a badly injured river revived, re-watered, and renewed. It’s a cascade of ecological recovery on a scale we can barely comprehend. It’s the awakening of what those in the know call “a sleeping giant of a fishery.”
We have a rare opportunity to shape this transformation – more so because we are not starting from scratch. Thanks to decades of citizen action, much of the stage has been set:
- In the headwaters, Silver Bow Creek, once so contaminated it could not support insect life, has been rebuilt and once again supports healthy native cutthroat trout.
- Near Missoula, Milltown Dam is gone, mountains of contamination piled behind it have been removed, and the historic confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers has been restored.
- In between, federal Superfund and state settlement dollars have been secured for cleanup and restoration of 56 miles of the Upper Clark Fork.
- Since 2013, more than half a million cubic yards of contaminated soil has been removed, some 12 miles of streambank have been rebuilt, and hundreds of thousands of riparian shrubs and willows are taking hold in a quickly-recovering floodplain.
The restoration momentum is there. Now it’s time to heal the tributaries that hold the key to basin-wide recovery. In the Upper Clark Fork drainage the Coalition and its partners have identified eight critical streams that, with the right help, will not only aid the recovery of the Clark Fork, but also help rebuild a world-class fishery. A fishery to rival any of Montana’s angling destinations, unfolding in a basin that, for more than a century, has suffered severe contamination and widespread degradation.
A pipe dream? Not at all. Through its “Eight Gr8 Trout Streams” campaign, the Coalition and its partners (Trout Unlimited, Watershed Restoration Coalition, state agencies, and private landowners) are fixing these high-priority creeks one by one: reconnecting them to the mainstem, repairing streambanks, restoring instream flow, removing fish passage barriers, and improving water quality.
These remedies will return flow to streams that support both agriculture and wildlife, heal riparian areas in one of the most ecologically diverse corridors in the Lower 48, and allow conservation populations of native fish to migrate freely to and from spawning areas. This hard-working river system already has all the raw ingredients of a truly great fishery – what’s needed now are the fixes to unlock its full potential.
That’s where you come in. Rebuilding a watershed – and doing it right – takes resources. Help fix these eight critical tributaries, and be part of a rare chance to build something unique and lasting. Even more rare: if you donate to the Eight Gr8 Campaign now, your gift will be matched two to one by Orvis and another generous funder, making your contribution go three times as far and do three times as much. Donate $100, make a $300 impact. Legacy-building made simple.
Let’s do this.
Few people in human history have had the chance to rebuild a watershed. But we do. It doesn’t get much bigger. Okay, so our great-grand kids might not actually still be talking about it. But when some distant descendant pauses to scan the Clark Fork on a gorgeous afternoon 100 years from now, may she find the clean, healthy, and wholly restored river you helped create still filling all who enjoy it with what they love and the things that really matter.