Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Middle Fork Judith annual hike

This is the major problem and bane of the Middle Fork, ATVs criss cross and muddy stream
Above the Middle Fork

Trip leader Dodger Newhall (left) and Bill Kolar
Here are some random observations and thoughts on my third time down the Middle Fork of the Judith Wilderness Study Area near Utica.
Norm (Dodger) Newhall has led this hike for the Montana Wilderness Association for the past 15 years and I’ve taken it the last two. It starts from the general Judith Ranger Station area off the South Fork of the Judith Road, south of Utica. Norm takes you on a Yogo Creek cutoff, and up the Woodchopper Ridge, cutting down to the Middle Fork by way of the Arch Coulee cutoff trail. He times it for the “What the Hay” hay bale art festival and treats his hikers to monster burgers and giant baskets of fries at the rustic Oxen Yoke Inn in Utica, a community gathering spot.
I’ve discussed this hike in an archived posting on this Web log Sept. 19, 2004 if you want more detail.
The centerpiece of this wilderness study area is the river, which cuts a snaking emerald path through limestone canyons in the Little Belt Mountains.
Unfortunately there are private in holdings in this Lewis and Clark National Forest treasure and there’s a road up the bottom that cuts back and forth across the creek more than 30 times from its head to the Judith Ranger station.
Some thoughts:
· The erosion along the creek is getting worse by the day because of incursions of the ATVs (all terrain vehicles). We saw a couple cross the creek when we were there.
· The ATVs and motorcycles are ignoring the signs forbidding them to travel on the high trails, like Arch Coulee Trail No. 424. In one spot we saw how the machines had gone around a tree that fallen on the trail.
· Much of the Middle Fork Trail No. 437 below Arch Coulee can be negotiated by footpath. There are four major crossings, but by going to the north you can find a good footpath in most instances.
· Newhall’s hike gets better with each passing year. The last two he’s added the option of a bushwhack for the final mile where you have to get in the creek in spots and walk through narrow limestone walls that expose massive caves.
· There are lots more to see in the wilderness study area. I tramped through the Lost Fork and Sandpoint areas nearly 30 years ago before fire remodeled that part of the area.
· I don’t know what to do about the growth in the number of ATVs in these areas. They’re tearing up the land, in addition to being a noise-nuisance. They’re relatively inexpensive and deliver the normally inert into wild country at the price of the wildness, ultimately.

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