As a longtime property owner in the East Rosebud Valley and owner of an outdoor retail store in nearby Red Lodge, I am deeply concerned about the proposed hydropower project on East Rosebud Creek.
The project, proposed by Hydrodynamics Inc. of Bozeman, would consist of a dam across the creek, a giant 2-mile-long water pipeline, powerhouse, substation and transmission lines. It would partially de-water a reach of the creek, harm fish and wildlife, and blemish what is now a pristine stream corridor.
The history of the upper East Rosebud Valley is as fascinating as the area is beautiful. It was part of the Crow Reservation until 1891. Maj. Henry Armstrong, who had been the Indian agent at the Crow Agency out of Absaroka, acquired the property around East Rosebud Lake from the government in 1892. In 1899 a wildfire swept through the valley, prompting Armstrong to sell the lakefront property to businessmen from Billings and Red Lodge in 1905. The new property owners began building cabins in the area. It was soon “discovered” by hikers and climbers. Many of today’s property owners on East Rosebud Lake have had their cabins in their families for generations.
Members of my family have hiked the surrounding trails and fished the sparkling clear waters of East Rosebud Creek for more than 85 years. While much of Montana has changed dramatically over that time, the upper East Rosebud Valley is still the Eden it was when I was a child. For the sake of future generations, I hope it stays that way forever.
The upper East Rosebud Valley is the jumping-off point for some of Montana’s most spectacular hikes, including the trek to Montana’s highest peak — Granite Peak. In addition to hosting climbers, the area attracts thousands of day hikers, backpackers, anglers, kayakers and campers every year. Virtually all of them contribute to the local economy by spending money on food, gas, lodging, outdoor gear, and — for some who fall in love with the place — property.
Putting a dam, power plant and transmission wires in such a cherished place would impact all kinds of recreation. By blocking fish passage and siphoning large amounts of water from the creek, the wild trout fishery would suffer, affecting anglers who flock here from across southern Montana. A new dam combined with decreased stream flows would rob kayakers of one of the best whitewater runs on the Beartooth Front. The proposed power plant would be built right below a favorite climbing area and close to a popular campground.
So many people who come into my store comment on how beautiful the upper East Rosebud Valley is. Why should we allow an ill-conceived hydropower project to take away from this beauty when there would be no benefits to local people?
Of all the spectacular rivers in Montana, less than 1 percent have been found to be eligible for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, our country’s national park system for rivers. Only four — the upper Missouri and three forks of the Upper Flathead River — have actually been protected as Wild land Scenic rivers by Congress. Wild and Scenic rivers enjoy a host of protections to ensure they remain clean, free-flowing and accessible to the public.
For the sake of maintaining the area’s natural beauty, protecting fish and wildlife, enhancing the recreation-based economy, and respecting private landowners who have been here for generations, it is time to consider adding the Wild and Scenic badge of honor to East Rosebud Creek.