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
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 Darby.
Much of this open space has been kept this way because it’s
good ground for raising food: grain, corn and beef.
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
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 refuge.
Bitterroot Valley Montana Activities, Sports and Things
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Skiing | Farmers
Fly Fishing |
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