Stream Access, if You Can Keep It

Montana's Stream Access Law is considered the gold standard for river access in the West. Just try anchoring your drift boat in the wrong place on some Wyoming rivers if you doubt that.

Maybe the fact that Montana's law is so good is the reason a small, but wealthy and powerful minority are so committed to getting rid of it. That was the case in the 1990s on Mitchell Slough, a branch of the Bitterroot River in the braided reach between Victor and Stevensville. That's when wealthy landowners, who had bought up the old ranch property that lined the Slough, hung trespassing signs along the water and waged a war to keep the riff-raff — a club of which I am proud to proclaim membership — out.

"Bitterroot Star" newspaper owner and reporter Michael Howell, along with a band of rabble-rousing old school Bitterrooters, formed the Bitterroot River Protection Association and went to work protecting the Stream Access Law on Mitchell Slough, finally winning a unanimous Montana Supreme Court decision in 2008. That fight is chronicled in Howell's new book, "Saving the Mitchell." Here's a link to my column reviewing the book.

While the topic is maddening, the book is a worthy retelling of a good fight. I know many of the characters in the story as I lived in the Bitterroot for six years in the 1990s and even worked for Howell at his newspaper, the "Bitterroot Star" for a couple of years. It was nice reading about some of my old friends, many who have faded from my life with time. It also helped that I knew the story has a happy ending.

If you can't find the book in your local bookstore, you can purchase it through the website of the Bitterroot River Protection Association.

I've written about Mitchell Slough and the SAL often enough. Here are links to a few of my earlier columns.

Bring on the Roaring Twenties

A Fight Now Decades Old

Ruby Access Battle Over, For Now

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