Right now, we have a brief moment of opportunity to protect and restore Grant Creek for fish, wildlife, and the people of the Missoula valley. Learn more about our Restore Grant Creek Campaign and how you can help care for and revive this “forgotten wilderness stream.”
A Tale of Two Creeks
To the Salish and Kootenai people its name is “Nɫɫq̓esuʔl̓m,” the “Little Wide Creek You Can Cross.” For millennia, it guided elders on their annual journey to the bitterroot-rich meadows of the Missoula valley. Much later, white settlers renamed it after Richard Grant, whose farm provided horses, cattle, and timber for the region’s miners, trappers, and builders. From its pristine beginnings in the Rattlesnake Wilderness, through its troubled traverse of commercial, residential, and agricultural lands, to its modest meeting with the Clark Fork River, Grant Creek embodies western Montana’s complex relationship with the waterways that define it.
Grant Creek begins high in the glacier-carved cirques of the Rattlesnake wilderness, thousands of feet above the Missoula valley. The upper portions feature cold, clean water and abundant native fish and wildlife habitat.
In its 19-mile journey to its confluence with the Clark Fork it undergoes a radical transformation, hammered in its lower reaches by high-intensity urban development, commercial and industrial runoff, and agricultural operations. After 150 years of heavy use, water quality and aquatic and riparian habitats in the lower creek have become impaired. It has lost its connectivity and natural ecological function.
Despite getting pretty battered in its lower 10 miles, the creek manages to provide enough of a migration corridor that it’s still in use by fish and wildlife seeking habitat, food, and shelter as they move between landscapes and within watersheds. With growth and development intensifying and climate change accelerating, these “aquatic lifelines” will play an increasingly important role in the future health and resiliency of both human and natural communities.
A Holistic Restoration of Grant Creek
With new, intensive development on the way along its lower reaches, is there any hope for Grant Creek? Absolutely. And not just hope: the very real opportunity for a headwaters-to-confluence restoration of this native trout stream and wilderness corridor.
That’s why in 2021 we launched our Restore Grant Creek Campaign — to take action during this rare, but brief window of opportunity to bring about full-scale revitalization. Our goal is to heal the creek where it has been harmed, re-naturalize it where it needs greater resilience, and protect it where its waters are still pristine.
Elsewhere in the Clark Fork watershed, we have seen the amazing recovery that’s possible when communities come together on behalf of the rivers they love. A community-driven Grant Creek restoration process can do the same by bringing people together to ensure the best possible future for our hardworking urban streams and the people, fish, and wildlife they sustain.
We work with city and county leaders to ensure that restoration of the hard-hit lower reaches of the creek is a community priority and that public funds are committed to complete the work. To date, the City of Missoula and Missoula County have embraced the idea of restoring the portion of the creek that flows through a newly-designated growth area in lower Grant Creek. The City has secured nearly $1 million federal funds to design and build a restored half-mile stream channel on Grant Creek below Broadway.
We apply the best available watershed science, data analysis, and field assessments to guide city/county restoration efforts in the lower reaches of Grant Creek and to inform projects in the middle and upper watershed. In 2021, we completed a detailed stream assessment to this end.
We build community investment in, advocacy for, and stewardship of Grant Creek to ensure it is both restored in the short term and protected over the long term. In 2022, CFC started a Grant Creek Working Group that includes private and public stakeholders, landowners, development interests, and conservation allies to advise local government on creek projects.
How You Can Help
In spite of the challenges it faces in its lower reaches, Grant Creek is still home to native westslope cutthroat, and is still a vital migration and movement corridor for wildlife navigating the quickly-growing Missoula valley. We have a rare window in which to act, the know-how to do what’s needed, and an outstanding opportunity to set the bar high and show how riverside communities can grow in ways that support and sustain irreplaceable water resources.
Please join us! Your gift helps supports restoration work, volunteer projects, community education, and more. Let’s come together to restore Grant Creek and bring back Missoula’s forgotten wilderness creek.