Get yourself to a high spot on the edge
of the Bitterroot Valley – a spot that will give a view north
and south – and you’ll be able to see the heritage of the valley
unfold before you.
One good spot is Chaffin Butte, just east
of Corvallis. It’s a hard hill to miss, since it’s got a big
white C painted on its face. Climb to the top of the hill on
a warm earlier summer day and you’ll see green fields stretching
down toward the Bitterroot River on both sides of the valley.
You’ll see miles of ditches carrying vital
irrigation water far down the valley, sprinklers watering crops
and the coursing river bottom full of giant cottonwoods. You
can see this as far as you look north, until the river meets
up with the Clark Fork near Missoula. Look south and you’ll
see it until the river gets bound up in the canyon north of
Much of this open space has been kept this
way because it’s good ground for raising food: grain, corn and
Farmers settled the valley in the 1860s
because of its rich, fertile soil, warm climate and water. That
heritage is alive and well today. The Eastside Highway is still
a place where traffic gets backed up by a slow moving tractor.
Drive by Casey’s Store near Bell Crossing on any given mid-summer
afternoon and you’re apt to see a parking lot full of Chevy
pick-ups and John Deeres.
This heritage has also provided the Bitterroot
with an abundance of wildlife habitat. Deer, elk, and moose
all forage in the valley bottoms. Waterfowl, pheasants and a
wide variety of song birds call the river bottom home either
year around or seasonally as they make their way north or south.
This fall, Bitterrooters will have a chance
to preserve these open lands that provide the valley such a
magnificent backdrop. The Open Lands Bond will be put to a vote
and if it passes could provide $10 million to preserve agricultural
land with conservation easements, protecting it forever from
development and protecting the ranchers and their way of life.
But conservation efforts in the valley
go far beyond the Open Lands Bond. The Bitterroot Chapter of
Trout Unlimited along with the Bitterroot Water Forum and Montana
Fish, Wildlife and Parks have recently secured a deal between
the Daly Ditch Company and other landowners to protect water
in Skalkaho Creek, one of the Bitterroot River’s main tributaries.
The project will siphon water from a large
irrigation ditch that now travels through the stream, via a
large diversion structure, under the stream. This will stabilize
stream flows in Skalkaho Creek and proved easier fish passage
for spawning cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout. It also serves
as an example of how a variety of people and conservation groups
can work together to protect the valley’s resources.
Teller Wildlife Refuge is another example
of conservation on working agricultural land. The refuge was
established by the late Otto Teller in 1988. Otto was an avid
outdoorsman and conservationist, who fell in love with the Bitterroot
Valley. In 1988 he bought up 18 pieces of land and created the
1,200-acre private, non-profit refuge.
As a refuge, the Teller works to enhance
and rehabilitate wildlife habitat, while demonstrating such
activities can happen on land that is still be actively farmed.
Their examples of land use serve as a reference for other landowners
in the valley. Their conservation work serves as an educational
tool for students and volunteers who work and recreate on the
Discover Bitterroot Valley
Montana Activities, Sports and Things To Do
Camping | Canoeing
| Conservation |
Cross Country Skiing
| Downhill Skiing |
Fly Fishing |
Hiking | Horse
Care | Hunting |
Look Outs |