By Lauren Miller - September 23, 2018 - Originally published in the Billings Gazette.
These days it is increasingly difficult to find issues that unite individuals and groups from different viewpoints, especially when it comes to decisions at the federal level. But through the haze of wildfire smoke in the West, and political discord in the East, the cool, blue, apolitical waters of the East Rosebud Creek wind through a valley of jagged mountain peaks. These waters are one of those things that unite us.
The recent designation of 20 miles of the East Rosebud Creek as part of the Wild and Scenic River System is the result of a bipartisan agreement, one that was made possible by the grass roots effort of a small group of people I grew up with in the East Rosebud Valley as well as the willingness of those in power – on both sides of the aisle – to listen to these hard-working Montanans.
My parents purchased a tract of land in the East Rosebud in 1995, one year prior to a wildfire that changed the landscape of the valley. My earliest memories of exploring the outdoors were on Forest Service land and public river bottoms. My sister and I learned how to fly fish in the river. We built sand castles along the shoreline and walked the short distance from our property at every opportunity to dip our toes in the river. A small blue picnic bench was the only structure on the land, surviving the ‘96 fires. Before building our cabin, we would pitch a tent, stargaze, listen to the rustling in the woods behind us, and imagine what wild creatures lurked just beyond our sight. Having a place such as this instilled in me a love for everything wild. These lands and waters are forever sacred to me.
Friends of the East Rosebud, the organization that spearheaded the effort to designate the river as Wild and Scenic, was created by concerned landowners when the valley was threatened by a proposed dam. They – along with groups like American Rivers, American Whitewater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and the group I now affiliate with, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers – have been fighting for this place for years. This bill would not have succeeded without the work of these hunters, fishermen, public land recreationists, private landowners and ranchers. They met with county commissioners and held local meetings to gather feedback from across party lines before traveling to Washington, D.C., to gain the congressional support they needed.
I’ve become skeptical that our leaders can work together, but these people actually got it done. My faith is bolstered. Miles of the East Rosebud Creek are now protected for all of us, forever. So, the next time you are trying to coax a trout out from under its grassy bank, or hunting the slopes leading down to the river, think of their efforts. And if you ever find yourself at the Grizzly Bar in Roscoe, Montana, raise a glass to these fine folks while you gaze upon our newest Wild and Scenic waterway.
Lauren Miller lives in Missoula and is a member of the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.