Wild and Scenic Rock Creek

Help keep Rock Creek wild and scenic!  Click here to sign a petition online that we will be sending to Montana's Congressional delegation.

Rock Creek is a pristine "blue ribbon" trout stream with headwaters in the Pintler Range up along the continental divide. Whereas the adjacent Bitterroot valley is wide and vast, Rock Creek valley is charmingly narrow, intimate and timeless. Bighorn sheep, moose, elk and deer share the land with residents living in log cabins and houses, some going back almost a century.


From its headwaters at the snowy crest of North America, Rock Creek flows down through alpine forests; past bucolic ranches where cattle have Hollywood views; through burbling honey holes where anglers test their wiles against wise trout; below gulches where hunters stealthily crisscross the national forest and wilderness; past the ghost of the gold-rush boomtown of Quigley; meandering around beaver dams; and onward to the confluence with the Clark Fork river and out to the Pacific.

Although gold dominated Rock Creek's early days, it ended in a bust when the gold rush turned out to be a scam. There was no mother lode, and the Quigley boomtown fell to dust. Gold still looms large over Rock Creek however, with numerous inactive mines and active exploratory sites in the watershed. Of all the reasons to support Wild and Scenic designation, and there are many, helping prevent a gold mine disaster is perhaps the strongest argument. Gold mining often involves highly toxic chemicals such as cyanide and sulfuric acid. When holding ponds or other enclosures burst, as can happen, the downstream ecosystem is turned into a wasteland, often tainted forever. Rock Creek would be a blue ribbon trout stream no more.

Horse Pack Train

Wild and Scenic designation is our best bet to prevent a future gold mine disaster, since gold mines in the Rock Creek watershed generally require a federal permit. If Rock Creek was designated a Wild and Scenic river, the federal mine permitting process could be informed by Wild and Scenic designation of the river below, and would be a powerful tool. We aren't against all gold mining; however, there are better places than Rock Creek, a pristine blue ribbon trout stream that has never proven itself a mother lode of gold. It would be a tragedy to forever spoil Rock Creek for the love of gold.

In support of our neighbors, we also aren’t against ranching, current or future, since the ranchers on Rock Creek have proven to be such good stewards of the land. In fact, we believe ranching is one of the remarkable values that Wild and Scenic designation should seek to preserve. It’s part of the culture.

Bighorn Sheep

Another remarkable value we seek to preserve is the homesteading ethic that permeates Rock Creek. For that reason, we suggest grandfathering-in existing firewood cutting rules for Rock Creek and Clinton residents. We suggest this since Wild and Scenic designation generally comes with a quarter mile corridor along the river where firewood cutting is prohibited; however, with intimate Rock Creek, this would oftentimes include the entire valley floor! By grandfathering-in existing firewood cutting rules for Rock Creek and Clinton residents, we can guarantee that “Rock Creekers” can continue to get the wood they need to heat their log cabins, in the same groves their families have relied on for generations. Wild and Scenic designation should not be a hardship for its residents, nor need it disrupt traditions that make Rock Creek so special.

Wild and Scenic designation wouldn’t require any taking of any kind, with private property completely unaffected. Local and state rules and regulations wouldn’t change. Rock Creek is already informally managed by the federal and state services as a "wild and scenic" river, so Wild and Scenic designation wouldn’t disrupt or inconvenience residents, ranchers or recreational users. Things would stay as they are now, including important but mundane things like water rights and county septic tank regulations. None of that would change. What we would gain is a guarantee that Rock Creek will remain wild and scenic, like it is now, for future generations.

Please support Wild and Scenic Rock Creek!