Sunday, September 23, 2007

Middle Fork Judith glorious but abused

The Arch

Glorious Fall colors already in the Middle Fork

One of the many crossings

Catching our breath in one of the many caves

The canyon walk
We took Dodger Newhall’s Montana Wilderness Association walk down the Middle Fork of the Judith River in the Little Belt Mountains Saturday for the third time. The area is southeast of Great Falls not far from Stanford.
My wife considers this an annual event now, something we eagerly anticipate.
As usual, Newhall’s leadership and the scenery on the hike were stellar.
The area was in full fall color and the water seemed especially cold as we crossed it repeatedly as it winds its way down a narrow limestone canyon.
Each time I take this hike, which starts near the Yogo Creek confluence with the Middle Fork, climbs to Woodchopper Ridge and then down the lovely Arches Coulee trail to the Middle Fork, its beauty stuns me.
I am also stunned that it hasn’t been designated wilderness yet by Congress.
An 89,000 acres area in the Lewis and Clark National Forest has been under study as the Middle Fork of the Judith Wilderness since the mid-70s.
It has been held up by in holdings at the head of the river and by strident opposition from off road vehicle users who cross the river more than 30 times to its head.
When I first came into this area about 30 years ago it was jeep and motorcycles that crossed the stream.
This absurd behavior must come to an end
Now it is the four wheelers, the ATVs or “quads.”
They make a mess of the stream when they get into it.
The Forest Service has got to be able to recognize the damage these ATVs are doing to the stream and forest.
The area represents what is most beautiful about the Little Belt Mountains and should be protected.


paul lehman said...

Sorry to say Tom that I grew up riding my motorcycle on those trails as well as the trails around the Logging Creek area 30 years ago. Interesting that there has been off-road vehicle use for 30 years and yet the beauty is still intact. That's mainly because the area hasn't been overrun by out of state folks that don't respect the land or treat it like the backyard it is to many Montanans. I will tell you that I do have somewhat of the same opinion now after turning in my motorcycle for a mountain bike. ATV use in my opinion ruins the nature of the trail for all other users. Taking what was once a nice singletrack and turning into a double track that only fits other ATVs. Unfortunately, I encounterd that July 2006 while mtn biking trails around Monument Peak. What scares me is the momentum that occurs when areas are set off limits - first it's the jeeps, motorcycles and ATVs....then shortly after, the line starts to form to get the mtn bikes off the trails. In extreme cases there has been closure to access of all kinds - including campers and hikers. If the land and trails have been used in a respectful manner by all parties for 30 years, I say keep the watchdog in the yard but don't let him loose...sometimes he bites his owner.
Paul Lehman
Boise, ID

Out there with Tom said...

Unfortunately, these were locals cruising the bottoms.
It is local folk who are stopping regulation.
I would agree that we should be concerned about over regulation, but the land here begs for that help.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments.