The Flathead National Forest is eyeing the prospect of the possibility of a permit system or other crowd controls for the scenic section of the North Fork of the Flathead River. The scenic section, as defined under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, runs from the border with Canada to the Camas Bridge.
The Forest Service, in cooperation with the Park Service, are working on a comprehensive river management plan for the three forks of the Flathead River. Some 219 miles of the river system are protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. But as more and more people come to the Flathead Valley, the rivers are becoming more crowded.
Glacier National Park over the past three summers has seen more than or just under 3 million people each year.
It seems Kascie Herron, who several of you may know from her activities with American Rivers, got married on the North Fork this summer . . .
No one ever tells you how fast it all goes by – the ceremony, photos, reception, eating, dancing, crying, laughing. The act of getting married will forever be a blur in my memory. All of it except the river.
My husband, Dan, and I were married on June 30 on the North Fork of the Flathead River in northwest Montana. The North Fork was designated a Wild and Scenic River in 1976. Its headwaters begin in Canada and flow south to its confluence with the Middle Fork Flathead, forming the western boundary of Glacier National Park. There are many reasons we chose this place to declare our lifelong commitment to one another. After all, our love for one another grew out of our love for rivers.
Well, now. It looks like a more serious effort is afoot (afloat?) to track river usage this summer . . .
The Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park are embarking on a joint plan this summer to track river use on the North and Middle Forks of the Flathead, with the eventual goal of crafting management plans for the Wild and Scenic rivers.
The initial plans date back to 1980 and 1986. Since then, visitor numbers to the region have surged, but the management plans have stayed untouched. In Glacier, nearly 3 million visited the Park last year. In 1986, Glacier saw a little more than 1.5 million visitors.
While anecdotal evidence indicates the rivers are getting more crowded with floaters and fishermen, the agencies don’t have baseline data for river usage, said Chris Prew, forest recreation program manager for the Flathead National Forest.
A few days ago, the National Parks Conservation Association released their Summer 2017 Field Report for the Northern Rockies. In it was an article by Michael Jamison, Crown of the Continent Program Manager, that is highly relevant to the North Fork, as well as any other region downstream of the Canadian Rockies. By permission of the author, it is reprinted here in its entirety . . .
People tend to think Glacier National Park is all about mountains.
And people are wrong.
Glacier is also about water: icy cold water rushing clean and clear across gravel and stone; whitewater plunging over cliff-band falls; sky-blue water eddying into lakes set like sapphires into the deep green of wilderness.
From the summit of the park’s Triple Divide Peak, meltwater flows west to the Pacific, east to the Atlantic, north to the Arctic by way of Hudson Bay. Glacier is water tower to a continent, spiked by peaks sharpened on a grindstone of Pleistocene ice.
I recently flew north out of Glacier, over a long slice of Alaska—another place branded by its mountains. Chugach. Wrangell-St. Elias. The Aleutians and Brooks and Chilkats.
But Alaska, like Glacier, is not really about mountains.
What I saw unfolding below was, again, a wild country defined by water: an endless winding coastline; miles of muskeg pooling like quicksilver; rivers washing the feet of mountains, slicing tundra and stone, spilling sediment braids into an ocean the color of steel.
Montana and Alaska are alike in this way. They also share a common headwater: British Columbia.
Lily Cullen, writing for the Hungry Horse News, posted a good summary of last week’s ‘river meeting’ at Flathead Forest headquarters. Several North Forkers were in attendance, as increasingly heavy river usage is becoming a significant issue locally (see, for example, older posts here and here) . . .
The Flathead National Forest has plans for a new Flathead River Wild and Scenic River plan, but it will probably take years to finalize new management policies for the three forks of the river, Hungry Horse/Glacier View district ranger Rob Davies said last week.
The plan will include updated standards for maximum river capacities and will designate launch points for half-day floats along the recreational stretches of the North, South, and Middle Forks of the Flathead River, Davies noted during a meeting of river stakeholders in Kalispell.
Crowds are a big issue for the Forest Service and Glacier National Park staff who manage the river. The standards for the ideal number of encounters on a river float — usually two to 10 per half-day float — haven’t changed since 1986. Rangers and volunteers monitor the North, Middle, and South forks during peak times in prime float season, and count the number of encounters on the water and on the shore. They also keep track of launch wait time. However, there’s no consequence or management plan for when the number of user encounters exceeds the standards, which are designed to measure the overall recreational experience.
Here’s a pretty good article by Chris Peterson of the Hungry Horse News about bikes in wilderness — specifically, about allowing mountain bikes in a possible North Fork wilderness area . . .
As the Flathead National Forest puts the finishing touches on a final Forest plan, one issue is rising to the forefront: Should bicycle use be allowed in areas that are recommended wilderness?
Central to the debate is proposed wilderness in the North Fork. Under alternative B in the draft plan, there’s about 80,000 acres of recommended wilderness in the plan in the upper end of the Whitefish Range north of Red Meadow Creek. Recommended wilderness is generally managed as wilderness, but under alternative B, the plan would allow continued mountain bike use in the region.
American Rivers is behind a new Montana specialty license plate featuring the North Fork of the Flathead River . . .
How can license plates help river conservation? When you purchase a new “Wild Rivers” specialty license plate in Montana, the Northern Rockies Office of American Rivers receives a $25 donation that we use to protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers, and conserve clean water for people and nature across the state.
American Rivers’ Northern Rockies Office commissioned Bozeman artist and outdoor athlete Rachel Pohl to create the stunning painting that appears on the plate, depicting the Wild and Scenic North Fork of the Flathead River along the western boundary of Glacier National Park. Rachel employs bold colors and vibrant imaging in her paintings, capturing the feel of mountain landscapes and making them jump off the canvas. The scene that she evokes in this painting is no different: A mother grizzly and two cubs overlook a whitewater rapid along the North Fork Flathead River, set beneath a fiery sunrise framing the Livingston Range.
Here’s a fascinating and moving video created by Henry Roberts from a series of game cam photos taken by North Forker Ray Brown. Thanks to Walter Roberts (no relation to Henry, I’d guess) for getting up on Facebook and giving this work the publicity it deserves. The sound track is from music by Josh Woodward. Highly recommended . . .
In February of 2014, Ray Brown of Polebridge, Montana came home to discover that wolves had killed an elk just off his driveway.
He set up a game camera near the carcass to see who might come back for it.
Three weeks went by.
The following photos are what he found — the inhabitants of the forest that helped return the carcass to the ecosystem.
Creeks and rivers are very low across this corner of Montana . . .
The two primary tributaries of the Flathead River have the lowest streamflows on record for late August, further reflecting the extreme drought conditions that are tormenting the region in a year being defined by smoky skies and stingy weather.
Entering the final days of August, the Middle Fork Flathead River was running at 470 cubic feet per second, a new record surpassing the previous low set in 1940, according to the National Weather Service. The median flow for this time of year is 977 cfs.
The North Fork Flathead River was running at 628 cfs, surpassing the 2001 record low. The median flow is 1,260 cfs. The streamflows are the lowest since monitoring gauges were established 75 years ago, according to Ray Nickless, NWS hydrologist.