If ever “a river ran through it,” it’s the Big Blackfoot River — the stuff of Montana legend that easily lives up to its fame. Over the past several decades it’s taken some hard knocks, but collaborative community partnerships are healing headwaters and staving off new threats. The Coalition works with many partners to make sure this fabled river keep its status as one of the best, and to uphold the community’s belief that the “Blackfoot is more precious than gold.”
The Big Blackfoot River begins just west of the Continental Divide near Lincoln and flows into the Clark Fork River at Milltown just east of Missoula. Today, the river and its tributaries provide premier recreation opportunities. Yet like elsewhere, mines, logging, and agriculture have left their mark on the watershed. The Coalition works with partners to repair past damages and prevent new threats that might compromise the river. Results: Mining explorations continue in the Blackfoot, but cyanide heap leach mining won’t devastate the Blackfoot after we helped pass ballot initiatives and legislation to protect clean water.
Mike Horse Mine Cleanup: In the 1940s, miners used metals-laced tailings to build the Mike Horse Dam at the origins of the Blackfoot River on Beartrap Creek near the Continental Divide. In 1975, the tailings dam blew out, dumping deadly levels of lead, copper and zinc into the Blackfoot. Spurred by the threat of another catastrophic flood contaminating the river, CFC developed an outreach campaign that generated 8,000 public comments to the U.S. Forest Service urging removal of the dam and cleanup of mine waste. Construction is now underway to dismantle the dam and move the mine tailings to a high and dry location, which will give the headwaters of the Blackfoot River a chance to fully heal. Learn more.
Stonewall & Keep Cool creeks: We manage and monitor a water lease that protects nearly 7 cfs in these tributaries to the Upper Blackfoot drainage. Stonewall Creek is a tributary to Keep Cool Creek, which supplies clean, cold water to the Blackfoot near Lincoln. Both creeks support westslope cutthroat and brown trout, while Keep Cool Creek is also intermittently used by the threatened bull trout. Both streams suffer from higher-than-ideal water temperatures, mining impacts, sediment inputs, dewatering and livestock grazing.
Copper Cliffs Mine: Near the old mining ghost town of Garnet, an outcrop of rock is stained iridescent blue and green with copper minerals. That colorful cliff has inspired numerous attempts to see if there’s ore where that color came from, and the most recent explorer is Kennecott Exploration Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the multinational Rio Tinto Group, which has been sporadically investigating this area since 2005. Although it’s much too early to speculate on the environmental consequences of a mine at Copper Cliff, we are concerned enough about the Blackfoot River to be tracking the project carefully. Learn more.
Local landowners; Blackfoot Challenge; Montana Department of Environmental Quality; Montana Department of Resources and Conservation; the state of Montana; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks; U.S. Forest Service; Trout Unlimited.