Since 2019, we’ve all been united by our belief in a thriving future for Eastern Montana, with the Lower Yellowstone at its core. Since we first shared our vision with our community, it’s garnered endorsements from over 30 city councils, county commissions, mayors, businesses, economic development experts, two governors, and ultimately the Montana State Legislature which allocated an initial $4 million dollars to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) to pursue the first stages of the project.
To guide that initial investment FWP, with Gov. Gianforte’s support, appointed a group of 12 stakeholders representing diverse interests along the river corridor to the Lower Yellowstone River Corridor Advisory Committee. This committee was tasked with developing recommendations and a vision for FWP to carry forward.
Last week, we reached a major milestone when FWP published the committee’s recommendations, setting the stage for the department to begin pursuing, in earnest, the work of protecting wildlife habitat, securing and improving public access, and developing economic opportunities for towns up and down the river corridor.
Entitled “Recommendations for Improving Public Access, Habitat Conservation, and Management of the Lower Yellowstone River Corridor,” the report lays out just how FWP could go about making the Lower Yellowstone River Coalition’s vision a reality. We’re thrilled with the vision the committee laid out, and strongly encourage FWP to implement the report’s recommendations.
These recommendations are a real-life map for what the near future of the Lower Yellowstone could look like.
“The Committee took care to provide recommendations that are achievable, practical, broadly supported, and within the budget provided by the Legislature,” said Angie Grove, the committee chair. “We’ve carefully considered each recommendation to incorporate conservation, community, agricultural and financial values, and every recommendation is supported by a consensus of all Committee members.”
With that in mind, here are some of the standout items from the report.
A new Lower Yellowstone River state park. The keystone of a thriving Lower Yellowstone, a new state park would be the centerpiece of efforts to attract new visitors to the region. The report recommends that FWP create a single park with three separate units near Hysham (Howrey Island/Myers Bridge) Terry (Powder River Depot), and Sidney/Glendive (Intake Dam). State parks have already proven effective at sustainably attracting visitors and encouraging economic development elsewhere in Montana, and all three areas would offer different experiences.
Over 12 new state land acquisitions. The report identified over a dozen parcels of land FWP could feasibly purchase from willing landowners to provide better public access to the river and protect riparian wildlife habitat. Currently, the river is difficult to access for 175 miles, including multiple 30+ mile access gaps, between Hysham and Sidney on the North Dakota border, making recreation difficult and limiting the potential for visitors to come and explore the river. These parcels could be used to create new fishing access sites, boat ramps, campsites, and more, helping make the Lower Yellowstone a friendlier destination for locals and visitors while preserving the rural and scenic character of the river.
New land-based trails. Providing additional hiking and walking opportunities along the river would make it easier for residents and visitors to explore the riparian habitat and encourage communities to build close ties to the river. Trails would also provide safe passage around diversion dams, allowing boaters and floaters to safely explore the river while ensuring farms and ranches remain unaffected.
New water-based trails. The report recommends that FWP create three water-based trails along different stretches of the river. These trails could offer primitive camping sites on publicly owned islands, creating a unique experience for users seeking to explore the natural beauty of the river, visit cultural and historic sites, and find solitude on the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48.
General infrastructure improvements. To sustainably maintain and improve accessibility, the report recommends making improvements to existing sites. These improvements would include camping opportunities, potable water sources, cultural and historic interpretive amenities, and toilets.
We’re seriously encouraged by these recommendations. We’ve been proud to lead this groundbreaking effort to this point, and we’ll continue to support FWP in making this vision a reality.
Thanks for everything you’ve done to get to this point. The future is exciting, and we can’t wait to see what comes next.