Wild Rivers, fortunate Flathead

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The three forks of the Flathead River are defining characteristics of Northwest Montana ó itís hard to imagine our corner of the Rockies without the existence of these free-flowing waterways. They play a vibrant role in our way of life and help power a multi-million dollar recreation-based economy.

This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on Oct. 2, 1968. The landmark legislation created a system to designate pristine rivers and preserve them in that state forever. Todayís front-page story details how this act came to be, and how the Flathead River served as its inspiration.

It took foresight and guts to protect the natural state of these rivers in the face of pressure to develop the West with dams, highways and power grids.

Itís a risk that has more than paid off, literally.

Beyond securing access to world-class fishing and boating opportunities, study after study has shown that outdoor recreation has emerged as the major economic driver of the Flathead. Millions of people visit Northwest Montana simply to experience the untamed, the wild, the scenic.

While we take time this year to reflect on the legacy of the of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, itís also imperative we look forward with the same long-range vision of the conservationists who saw value in safeguarding our rivers. Certainly, challenges lie ahead. River use is rapidly growing, and native species and water quality are constantly under pressure. Itís up to us to keep the three forks of the Flathead pristine and free-flowing for the next 50 years.

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