aerial shot of dry cottonwood creek ranch in the upper clark fork valley

Upper Clark Fork

4-River running red 1970sAt the heart of Montana’s mining boom, the Upper Clark Fork fueled the growth of the state and provided the copper that electrified the nation.  But the meandering headwaters of the Clark Fork paid a heavy toll—even running red at times—as the resulting pollution washed downstream and over river banks.  Today, this watershed is the center of one of the most remarkable restoration stories in the world—a rare second chance for a hard-working river. (Watch the video to learn more: Superfund: Tailing History)


Our Strategy

upper-clark-fork-tnMining and smelting operations at the headwaters of the Clark Fork delivered copper for electricity to the United States for over a century. Long before environmental laws were in place, a massive flood in 1908 washed millions of tons of contaminated sediment downstream and deposited metals in the floodplain for over 120 river miles. The contamination impacted drinking water wells and agricultural soils, and today the river functions at only 1/5 of its fishery potential. Compounding the problem, the upper river faces additional challenges from drought, sediment loads, and dewatering. View our Upper Clark Fork Aquatic Restoration Strategy here, and see our featured restoration projects here.

Our Projects

ranching_2ndDry Cottonwood Creek Ranch: From 2005-2021, CFC ran DCCR with the help of two conservation partners in order to  understand first-hand how the Superfund cleanup would impact a working cattle operation. DCCR was the first private ranch in the Upper Clark Fork Valley to undergo cleanup and restoration.  CFC worked to set a positive precedent for cleanup that included minimal disruption to a working cattle operation, no loss of income for the ranch, and a cleanup and restoration that sticks. We now connect adults and young people to experiential learning activities and volunteer projects at Dry Cottonwood Creek Field House. Read more about Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch.


Equipment along river-Superfund cleanup DCCRSuperfund Cleanup: (Video presentation with update on Superfund Cleanup as of April 2021 found here.) We have been advocating for Superfund listing and cleanup in the Upper Clark Fork since the Coalition’s inception. Now, the dream is a reality:  the decade-long, 56-river-mile cleanup began in 2012 and the river is responding in a big way. We continue to supply technical input to state agencies in our dual role as advisor and landowner. In 2014, DEQ began cleanup of private ranchlands, and in 2016 completed cleanup on 4.5 miles of riverbanks on DCCR. Contractors removed contaminated sediments from the floodplain and riverbanks, backfilled with clean river sediment, and planted thousands of new riparian trees and shrubs.


HandsontheRanch-DryCottonwoodCreekRanch-CFCRewater, Reconnect, Restore: We believe that a river system is only as healthy as its tributaries, which is why we enhance the mainstem Superfund cleanup with integrated stream restoration projects that heal the headwaters in the Upper Clark Fork basin. Download our Aquatic Restoration Strategy here.  The Coalition negotiates water leases that conserve irrigation water and add flows to dry or disconnected creeks. We also plan riparian habitat improvement projects and work to improve fish passage in partnership with landowners. Click here to learn more about featured stream restoration projects in the Upper Clark Fork.

Our Partners

Local landowners; Watershed Restoration Coalition; Natural Resources Damages Program; Montana Department of Environmental Quality; Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committee; Clark Fork Watershed Education Program; Montana Department of Resources and Conservation; the State of Montana; Powell County; Anaconda Sportsmen; Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks; Environmental Protection Agency; Trout Unlimited, Montana Meat Co.; Montana Natural Resources and Conservation Services.