Big Blackfoot Riverkeeper Jerry O'Connell is running a bit of an experiment this summer. In conjunction with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, he's monitoring a new campsite at Ninemile Prairie, about 150 yards from his house. The hitch? You gotta float in to camp out.
The new site is one of three trial spots FWP is trotting out this season to meet local demands for more primitive recreation options. Camping on the Blackfoot has historically been limited to developed siteseasy drive-in access, fire pits, pit toilets. Availability at those sites can be dicey even on weekdays, and they're usually teeming with fellow campers.
"I just like the hell out of the idea of being able to float knowing you're going to camp somewhere and have a quiet, private experience," O'Connell says.
FWP river recreation manager Chet Crowser says the main goal of these new sites is to diversify opportunities on the waterway. But there's a host of trickle-down benefits for both the agency and Blackfoot-area landowners. For starters, Crowser believes the more remote sites could put a dent in illegal "pioneer" camping and alleviate landowners' concerns about fire, trash and human waste on private property. And increasing the number of campsites on the river will make sure float campers don't get stuck without a place to sleep.
While the new campsites, located at River Junction, Corrick's River Bend and Ninemile Prairie, will be operated on a permit system, Crowser doesn't anticipate any user conflicts. FWP intends to monitor the site at River Junction, and O'Connell has volunteered to cover Corrick's and Ninemile. The potential for fire damage and trash accumulation is still there. But, given the kinds of users most likely to utilize the primitive sites, O'Connell isn't nervous. "I've done it in the wilderness, and I love the idea of being able to do it here on the Blackfoot," he says. "It's good stuff. It's good for public opinion, it's good for the image of the river."
He'd even like FWP to name the sites. He's already got a suggestion for the spot near his house: "The Maclean site."
"It's right on Norman Maclean's favorite fishing hole," O'Connell says. "I've talked to a grandson who's been fishing there with him. ... It's a great fishing spot. A great nook."