The Gallatin River Celebration

Rivers largely define Montana's history, culture, economy, character, and natural environment. So what happens when a river gets re-defined by pollution and irresponsible management? Health problems. Degraded beauty. Squandered recreation. Lost economic opportunity. Astronomical cleanup costs.

That story has been told in too many communities across the American West. But the people who live in the Gallatin River watershed may be in the midst of telling a different story; one about how local residents are working together to permanently protect their river and sustain all the priceless benefits it offers them.

Local efforts to preserve the Gallatin River began two years ago with a campaign by area conservation group American Wildlands. After surveying their scientific data on aquatics and the sad fate of rivers like the Blackfoot and Clark Fork, American Wildlands launched a campaign to name the Gallatin an Outstanding Resource Water (ORW). ORW status provides a water body with the highest protections available under Montana state law, essentially shielding it from permanent degradation.

Residents of Gallatin County enthusiastically joined in the campaign, with over 2,000 of them signing a petition urging the state to name the Gallatin River an ORW. The Bozeman City Council, 75 local businesses, and the Gallatin County Commissioners also endorsed the ORW listing. However, the Montana Legislature did its best to derail the effort this year, rewriting the ORW law to clutter it with so many dead ends and catch-22�s that no water body could ever qualify.

But then something miraculous happened. Overwhelmed by letters and phone calls from Gallatin County residents expressing their love for the river, the legislature exempted the Gallatin from the new ORW restrictions. What this means is the Gallatin River will likely be the first and only body of water in Montana to receive ORW status.

Over the next two years, the Gallatin ORW campaign will continue working to gain funding for a required environmental impact statement, along with approval from the state�s Board of Environmental Review, the full legislature, and the governor. In the meantime, American Wildlands will gather folks from across the community to celebrate the river in all its glory and for all it adds to our lives.

Events will include an all-day reading of the Montana classic A River Runs Through It, a kids' presentation on water quality, a musical/poetic tribute to rivers, a panel discussion with local experts, a party, and the always-thrilling kayak and canoe races of the Gallatin Whitewater Festival. Everyone is invited to attend and share in the remarkable, unfolding story of the Gallatin River.

For more information, contact American Wildlands at 586-8175.