VTC – Sapphires

Photo by Meg Killen

Project: Sapphires

Landscape: Sapphire Mountains

Partner: Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (MT Chapter)

Dates: June 17 - 20, 2021

Location: Flat Rock Creek & Gold Creek - Bitterroot Natl. Forest, Stevensville R.D.
Project Work: Clearing & Trail Maintenance
Camping: Frontcountry Car Camping
Project Difficulty: Strenuous
Volunteer Limit: 8
Volunteer Slots Available: FULL
Meeting Time: Thursday, June 17 at 7 p.m.
Meeting Place: Gold Creek Campground



Project Description

MWA is partnering with The Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers to open and maintain remote trails on our public lands. We will be headed into the Sapphire Mountains to work on the Flat Rock Creek Trail #148 and Gold Creek Trail #43.

Flat Rock has not been cleared for several years, so opening that trail will be our top priority. We will also perform spot maintenance tasks on the trail as we progress. These tasks include re-treading the trail, brushing the corridor, and clearing drainage structures. Each day's coverage will vary depending on how many trees have fallen, the size of the down trees, and what work we find along the way. After we finish on Flat Rock, we will re-tread sections of the Gold Creek Trail.

This project is a great opportunity to explore the Sapphire Mountains while helping improve access for hunters, anglers, hikers, and equestrians. Clearing deadfall is one of a trail crew's most rewarding work tasks. If you are up for the challenge, join us to experience the wild Sapphires and make a positive contribution to Montana's world-class network of public trails.

*This trip is reserved for members of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. To become a member or renew your membership to BHA, click here.*

About the Area

Gold Creek and Flat Rock Creek are both tributaries of the Burnt Fork Bitterroot River. The Burnt Fork flows through the northern Sapphire Mountains. A few miles to the south is the boundary for the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area. The description below is about the WSA, but still provides fitting context for our project.

"Glacial scouring has produced steep, rocky cirque basins and trough walls along the crest and southern boundary of the Sapphire WSA. Remaining lands, primarily in the West and Ross Forks of Rock Creek are rolling hills with flat creek bottoms. Glacial deposits reworked by flowing water characterize most valleys east of the crest. Elevations range from 5,000 feet at some points along the lower boundary to 9,000 feet at Kent Peak. Sixty percent of the area is above 7,000 feet. Prominent landmarks include Bare Hill, Kent, and Congdon Peaks, and Signal Rock. Drainages flowing to the east are Copper Creek, and the Ross and West Forks of Rock Creek, a nationally recognized “blue ribbon” trout fishery. Moose, Martin, and Skalkaho Creeks flow to the west and are tributaries of the Bitterroot River. Twenty-four small lakes and numerous potholes occur along the crest.

Geology is primarily granite intrusions. Landforms have been modified by past alpine glaciation with soils derived from the parent geology. Streamside meadows break the forested landscape at lower elevations; exposed bedrock and rubble predominate along the Sapphire crest, Whetstone Ridge, and the southern portion bordering the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness. Douglas-fir and lodgepole pine are the primary tree species with whitebark pine and subalpine larch at the highest elevations. Bunchgrass with scattered Douglas-fir occupies severe south to west-facing sites. Douglas-fir is common on north exposures at lower elevations and lodgepole pine is common elsewhere. Ground cover is mainly snowberry, ninebark, and beargrass on drier sites, willow and redosier dogwood on cool moist sites, and grouse whortleberry or wood rush on severe cold sites at higher elevations."

Description excerpted from USDA Forest Service, "Sapphire Wilderness Study Area Wilderness Character Assessment," May 2006. Full document available online here.

Meeting Time & Place

Thursday, June 17, 7 p.m.
We will be meeting at the Gold Creek Campground on the Stevensville Ranger District. Directions from Main Street Stevensvile:

  • Head south on Main Street for aprox. one half mile
  • Turn Left onto Middle Burnt Fork Rd and continue east, then southeast, for 10.2 miles
  • Continue onto South Burth Fork Road for 1.5 miles
  • Turn Left to remain on South Burnt Fork Road/FSR 312
  • Continue south for 2.4 miles to reach the campground

Camping Details

We will be frontcountry camping at the Gold Creek Campground. This is a developed campground with a vault toilet but no running water. We will be sharing a few campsites reserved for us ahead of time.

Project Difficulty

This will be a Strenuous project. Our primary worksite will change throughout the weekend, but all the trails in this area have steady elevation gains. Daily hikes will vary depending on trail conditions - less down trees means more hiking. Expect to hike a minimum of 5 miles every day. Maintenance tasks require digging and will get tiring. Please reach out if you have any questions or concerns about your ability to participate safely in this project.

*Note: project work is subject to change. Our tasks may become easier or more challenging. Your flexibility in the field is appreciated as we adapt to changing conditions. 

Food and Water

MWA will provide all meals and cooking equipment. However, please arrive Thursday evening having already eaten or prepared to make your own supper. Your first meal provided will be breakfast and lunch fixings on Friday. The last meal provided will be lunch on Sunday. Dinner is not provided on Sunday evening.

Volunteers are expected to help with food preparation and clean up on a rotating basis, but your crew leader will handle primary kitchen responsibilities. Since no potable water is available at the campground, please help by bringing drinking water with you for the weekend.

Covid Precautions

The health and safety of our volunteers is our top priority during the coronavirus pandemic. The outdoor setting of our VTC projects, coupled with extensive precautionary measures, give us confidence that we can host these outings safely. Please only sign up for a project if you understand that, despite our best precautions, there is nothing we can do to completely remove the risk of contracting the coronavirus. If you are a member of an at-risk population we would encourage you to stay home.

If you decide to sign up for a trip, please come prepared to comply with the following precautions:

  • If you have experienced symptoms of Covid-19 or been around someone that has in the weeks leading up to the project dates, we will be asking you to kindly stay home.

  • We will be following government and CDC recommendations relevant to travel restrictions, quarantine mandates, and group size limits. This means that we may have to unexpectantly reduce our crew size and out of state volunteers may not be allowed to participate. If a trip is canceled due to covid, your trip deposit will be refunded.

  • We will be practicing social distancing at all times. Fortunately this is an easy thing to do when we’re outside on a trail.

  • Masks will be required when social distancing is not possible. This includes when we prepare food in the kitchen and are doing dishes.

  • We will be especially cautious with sharing items, including PPE. We will ask everyone to supply their own gloves, cloth facemasks, and safety glasses/sunglasses.

  • As is always the case, maintaining proper personal and group hygiene will be extremely important. Frequent handwashing is a must.

We will give you plenty of advance notice of any changes that will affect your preparation and participation. Please know we will do whatever we can to help promote a safe environment on these projects.

More Information