Project Name: Improving River Health and Recreation on the Gallatin
Sponsoring Organization: Gallatin River Task Force
District Funds Awarded: $38,520

In late August, the Gallatin River Task Force (Task Force) broke ground on the Upper Deer Creek Riparian Habitat and Access Restoration project. This is the second large-scale restoration project planned for the upper Gallatin corridor as part of a long-term partnership between the Gallatin River Task Force and the Custer Gallatin National Forest. The goal of this partnership is to improve the ecological health of the river while enhancing user access.

The upper Gallatin is a treasured resource for the Big Sky community, famous for its easy access. From the Yellowstone National Park (YNP) boundary to the mouth of Gallatin Canyon, anglers, rafters, and kayakers enjoy almost 40 miles of public waterway and riverbank—but this convenience is not without consequence. All this access, combined with increasing tourist visitation and resident population growth, is starting to take its toll on the river’s health.

Increasing pressure has left streamside vegetation trampled and has exacerbated erosion along stream banks, increasing the level of nutrients and sediment entering the Gallatin River, threatening river health. Riparian vegetation also provides shade that lowers water temperatures restoring habitat for fish and aquatic insects.

To address these issues, 101 sites were identified from the YNP boundary to Spanish Creek, where river users are leaving permanent impacts. Restoration projects were prioritized looking first at popular sites with heavy recreation use. This led to the first project at Moose Creek Flat Recreation Area, completed in 2018.

The second project, currently under construction at Upper Deer, is located upstream of the Deer Creek trailhead, an area locals call Baetis Alley or Powerline Meadows. Site improvements include revegetation of riparian habitat, stabilization of eroded streambanks, trail system improvements to concentrate river access and offset erosion, a formalized parking area to discourage off-road vehicle use, and accessible fishing platform, and sustainable boat launches.

Social and economic benefits of the project include a preserved and enhanced river recreation and amenity-based economy, less crowding and user conflict, a reduction in unauthorized use, and enhanced community knowledge and interest in water resources. An important component of this project is the installation of a fishing platform and recreational trail that meets the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It will be the only one of its kind in the Upper Gallatin River corridor, replacing the fishing platform at the Deer Creek trailhead / Green Bridge that has been out of commission for many years.

Big Sky Resort Area District (Resort Tax) support has been critical to all phases of the Upper Deer Creek restoration project, but particularly to jumpstart the initial planning required to develop the project and engage stakeholders and potential funders in the process.

Other major funding sources include the Custer Gallatin National Forest, REI, the National Forest Foundation, the Moonlight Community Foundation, the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, Madison-Gallatin Trout Unlimited, the Spanish Peaks Community Foundation, Gallatin Canyon Women’s Club, the Knight Foundation, SIMMS, the Trailsend Foundation, the Ladd Family, Friends of the Gallatin members, and Gallatin River Forever campaign donors.