Mountain High 

Folks living outside of Big Sky Country see the wildflower meadows and mountain streams that blanket our travel literature and can be forgiven for thinking that Montana, so close to the dank Pacific Northwest, is a moist, fertile state. But live here for a summer, through the forest fire smoke and the drought warnings, and you learn very quickly that Montana is actually a very dry place.

According to a recent U.S. Geological Survey report, our current five-year drought might linger for many more years. The report draws links between warm, north Atlantic waters and western U.S. drought by looking at treerings, and little in the West indicates that these arid days will let up anytime soon.

To counter the parched cityscape of Missoula in the warm, summer months, Garden Cityites head to the nearby rivers, with the Blackfoot ranking as perhaps the most popular river in the western half of the state.

Here the inner tubers and fisherfolk join fish and birds in appreciating a river uncorrupted, flowing clean and clear with waters born high in some of Montana’s most spectacular wilderness areas. And while the point may be lost on merganser families zipping about on the water, Montana’s boating and voting public very much appreciates the lack of a certain mining hole, nearly the size of the Berkeley Pit, that some destitute mining company (still) wants to dig right alongside the river’s banks.

But while the battle to stop those out-of-state gold diggers forced Missoula’s river activist community to fight a regressive battle through the recent campaign season, they’re now looking to other river problems—like the toxic sediments of the Milltown Reservoir.

Fortunately for all downstreamers, the feds are gearing up to begin the multi-year process of removing the decrepit Milltown Dam and related toxins as early as this winter—a highly-invasive but ultimately beneficial project. Anyone looking to learn more about what’s going on at Missoula’s very own upstream Superfund site should join the Friends of Two Rivers for an informational meeting on the upcoming restoration. Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Resources Defense Council will give a presentation and then answer questions, so show up Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Bonner for the meeting. Call Sue Furey at 258-2888 for more information.

On Nov. 13, the Montana Natural History Center will hold its Saturday Discovery Day: Humans, Bears and Befuddlement, a day for folks in middle school and older to learn how to be animal detectives. Meet at 9:30 a.m. at UM’s Social Sciences Building, Room 344, and join physical anthropologist Garry Kerr as he walks you through the process of looking at dem bones. Children must be accompanied by an adult, and the program runs $7/person or $15/families. Call 327-0405 to register, or log on to

You may not know it, but Missoula is home to the continent’s top bicycle touring group, the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA). These pedal-fanatics are hosting an open house at their 150 E. Pine St. world headquarters from 4 to 6 p.m. on Nov. 18 to celebrate a new executive director, Jim Sayer, and to show Missoula what the 41,000-member association is all about. Count on live music, free food and clinics on how to change a flat tire or put studs on your tires for safe(r) winter cycling in Missoula. For more information call 721-1776.

In order “to increase dialogue between conservationists, community forestry practitioners and federal agencies on more local level,” local activists are teaming up with politicos to host the Western Montana Restoration Summit Nov. 15–16 at the Doubletree Hotel in Missoula. Multiple speakers, including Lolo N.F. Supervisor Debbie Austin, former Congressman Pat Williams and attorney Mike Wood will lecture and hold roundtables Saturday, followed by a day of visiting regional forest restoration sites. Call 531-2894 for more info. Montanans who like outdoor recreation but don’t thrill in the killing of our animal neighbors can find November a most difficult month of recreation. There’s often too much snow for climbing or casual hiking, but not enough for skiing or snowboarding. And many, or most, of the state’s most beautiful locations are chock full of gun-toting hunters, slinking about and eager to blast a hole in something freezer-worthy. The Rocky Mountaineers know this and lo, they provideth: Anyone looking for a stimulating but low-elevation hike that’s close to town and (theoretically) devoid of meat-seekers should consider joining Fred Schwanemann (542-7372) for a seven-mile roundtrip in the Rattlesnake Recreation Area on Nov. 14. The route includes Trail 99 and “fishing trails,” and participants will lunch on the banks of Rattlesnake Creek. And although it’s in a no-hunting zone, it’s never a bad idea to wear hunter’s orange while recreating outdoors in November.

More ambitious folks can join Rocky Mountaineer Steve Niday for a full-on adventure up Mt. Calowahcan in the venerable Mission Mountains, also Nov. 14. Keep in mind that Niday says the climb will be snowy, “difficult” and perhaps “very difficult.” It’s also worth noting that he’s looking to summit via a route he’s never been up, the Northwest Ridge, and that route-finding often provides some of the greatest joys (and challenges) in mountaineering. A tribal recreation permit is required, as is attire other than blue jeans, so dress appropriately for winter weather and then call Niday at 721-3790 for more info.

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