Loved to Death

Blacks ford, madison river, boat launch

Sharing Montana in a new era of outdoor recreation.

My family, along with just about everyone else, looks forward to summer mornings on the Madison River. The water in many parts of the lower Madison is warm, shallow, gentle, and constantly enticing to my toddler son, who likes to dangle off the side of the raft.

We’re among several million people who, in any given year, enjoy the waters, trails, and outdoor facilities across Montana. But with a renewed fervor in outdoor recreation, sharing these places responsibly has become a deciding factor in keeping them open for use.

Montana’s state parks saw enormous visitation increases last year. Missouri Headwaters State Park, for example, welcomed almost 71,000 visitors, a 37 percent increase over 2019. In total for 2020, Montana’s 55 state parks recorded 3.4 million visitors, nearly 30 percent more than in 2019.

More people also used Montana’s fishing access sites, which accommodate roughly 3.9 million visitors annually. The lower Madison alone sees up to 300,000 people, many of whom recreate on inner tubes and inflatable pool toys in the summer, not to mention the heavy use by anglers.

It’s easy to see how, in a short time, these places can become loved to death. Demands on trash collection, latrine maintenance, site rehabilitation and repairs, and law enforcement quickly add up at fishing-access sites and state parks. Without a conscious effort to minimize their impacts to these places, recreationists start to detract from their own experience.

However, leaving a minimal footprint and still having fun outside is always possible, even in times of record-setting visitation. Wherever and however we enjoy Montana, let’s keep a few things in mind to protect the places we love and our experiences in them.

Pack it in, pack it out. Whatever you bring on your adventure, make sure to take it all home with you. Dispose of trash in dumpsters, if provided, or at home. Latrines with trash in them may have to be closed, causing an inconvenience for everyone. Clean up and pack out waste from pets.

Park and travel politely. Park only in designated areas without blocking access for other vehicles. Use boat-trailer parking spaces only if you’re towing a trailer. Stay on designated roads and don’t trespass on private property. Once you step onto a designated trail, stay on the trail to minimize impacts to soil, vegetation, and wildlife.

Be courteous to all users. A little patience and preparation go a long way toward a smooth experience for everyone. Prepare your watercraft for launch before approaching the boat ramp, and spend as little time as possible on or near the ramp so that others can use it.

If you see a crime, report it. 800-TIP-MONT is Montana’s toll-free hotline for reporting crimes involving wildlife and FWP lands. Vandalism, theft, poaching, and other crimes harm these public resources. You can help put a stop to it.

Let’s keep Montana alive and beautiful. I’ll see you out there.

Morgan Jacobsen is the Region 3 information officer for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.