A Plan to Praise
Bitterroot National Forest offers travel plan that prioritizes and protects what we hold dear
When most people hear the words “forest travel plan,” a feeling of excitement does not generally follow. But this spring, the Bitterroot National Forest released a travel plan worthy of a dance.
And that’s because the plan safeguards habitat, clean water, and solitude in stunning landscapes around the Bitterroot, including the Sapphire and Blue Joint Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs), places that Stevensville-native Sen. Lee Metcalf protected with the passage of the 1977 Montana Wilderness Study Act. Adhering to the spirit and letter of that law, the travel plan prohibits motorized and mechanized travel within these WSAs, while still providing a multitude of opportunities outside the WSAs to enjoy the forest by mountain bike, off-road vehicle, and snowmobile.
We’re excited about the travel plan also because it maintains the wilderness character of places the Forest Service has recommended as additions to the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness areas.
So, if you’re a ridge-ranging elk (or a human), you can look forward to quiet summers on nearly fifty miles of the crest of the Sapphire Mountains, from the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness north to the Burnt Fork of the Bitterroot River. If you’re a wild trout, you can look forward to free-flowing streams, such as Blue Joint Creek, that will be that much colder and clearer. And if you’re a wolverine, the rugged high country of the Bitterroot Range will remain a refuge for denning and rearing young through the winter months.
The Bitterroot National Forest’s seminal travel plan has already rubbed off on its neighbors: The Clearwater National Forest is close to finalizing its own revised travel plan that protects the vast Great Burn Proposed Wilderness for traditional foot and horse travel and for its world-class fish and wildlife habitat.
We thank you for sending your comments, attending meetings, or just being a part of our effort to convince the Bitterroot Forest that this was the travel plan that needed to be written.
This summer and fall, enjoy the fruits of your labor with a quiet adventure to Castle Rock in the Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area or up beautiful Willow Creek in the Stony Mountain Roadless Area in the Sapphires. For details, visit our online trail guide, hikewildmontana.org.
- Zack Porter, western Montana field director