Throw bags and goat licks on the Middle Fork

In early June, I was able to join a yearly river training hosted by Hungry Horse Ranger District on the Flathead National Forest in northern Montana. This area is home to the designated Flathead Wild & Scenic River, which consists of three separate reaches including the North Fork, Middle Fork, and the South Fork. The staff on this district help manage a section of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River and co-manage the North Fork with Glacier National Park, which borders the river to the east. The training was led by district staff and included seasonal river rangers on the district, river and search-and-rescue (SAR) personnel from Glacier NP, and other staff across the forest doing river-related work. The first day was classroom based, and we covered the basics of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, river rules and regulations, and monitoring procedures. The next two days were spent out on the Middle Fork with folks from Montana Rescue (a swiftwater safety training group based in Missoula, MT), learning the basics of river safety, reading the river, and whitewater rescue skills. We were all on larger oar rafts and took turns rowing as we navigated through a series of rapids. We also practiced river crossing, swimming, and throw bag techniques, and went through a log strainer scenario. It was crazy to feel the power of the river (even though it was unseasonably low for this time of year) and I was very glad that I had rented a full-dry suit before I left Missoula- the water was cold cold cold and it rained most of the time. The two stretches we floated through were absolutely beautiful, and we even spotted a mountain goat in a section known as ‘Goat Lick”, an area with natural mineral deposits (salts) that draws in wildlife from near and far.

All-in-all, the training was a really good experience and it’s been great to learn more about Wild & Scenic Rivers through my RAship. The Flathead is a stunner, and a pretty perfect example of why a river should be designated. Excited for more river time in the future!

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