Why I support the Lower Yellowstone River Coalition

Guest Opinion By Geraldine Custer
Sunday, January 3, 2021
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Eastern Montana has incredible outdoor resources that are available to all of our citizens. These resources, including rivers, campsites, boat ramps, trails, roads, and more, help us enjoy the recreational side of our outdoor resources, and we have a significant opportunity to make our public lands and waters even more accessible to all who wish to use them.

That’s why I’m proud to support the Lower Yellowstone River Coalition. It’s a group of community leaders, citizens, economic development experts, and recreation enthusiasts from eastern Montana working to make the most of the Lower Yellowstone River on behalf of our communities. The coalition has put together a strong proposal to improve public access, infrastructure, and recreational opportunities along the river, and I’m encouraging you to add your support.

Since the spring of 2020, the coalition has been meeting with Eastern Montana mayors, city councils, county commissions, and economic development and tourism organizations to share its vision for the Lower Yellowstone. Across the board, these officials and organizations have endorsed this vision and agreed that the Lower Yellowstone has vast untapped potential and needs meaningful investment to fulfil that potential.

The coalition’s proposal focuses on the long stretch of river between Hysham and the North Dakota border. This stretch of river provides vital water for agricultural producers and communities, and there are a number of opportunities to make the river more accessible to Montanans and visitors for fishing, boating, floating, and camping while protecting this important water for our cattle and crops. With careful investment, we can build and improve boat ramps, establish campsites and potable water sources, improve access roads, and improve access to over 175 river miles that are currently difficult for the public to utilize.

For example, by creating new boat ramps and access roads, we can significantly reduce the 40-mile access gaps that exist along this stretch of the river. Doing so will make it easier for floaters and boaters to enjoy day trips closer to home and dramatically reduce the distances that people must travel to camp, fish, and recreate along the river. By adding campsites, waste collection, and restroom facilities, we can create new opportunities for people to safely and comfortably enjoy overnight trips. Improving recreational infrastructure along the river will also reduce conflict and support the integrity of private lands by focusing visitation on a limited number of well-maintained public access points.

Such improvements would positively impact our quality of life in Eastern Montana.

Making the Lower Yellowstone more accessible would also strengthen local businesses and create jobs by attracting more visitors to Eastern Montana communities. Visitors shop at our stores, stay in our hotels, fuel up at our gas stations, and eat at our restaurants, spreading their spending across communities in a way that brings widespread benefits. Across Montana,

outdoor recreation generates $7.7 billion and employs 32,000 people every year, and this proposal is a unique opportunity to bring more of this money and these jobs to Eastern Montana.

I’m not the only one to support the Lower Yellowstone River Coalition’s proposal. It’s also supported by a broad cross-section of eastern Montana residents, local cities and towns, economic development groups, tourism advocates, chambers of commerce, conservation and sportsmen’s groups, and local landowners. Every county commission along the river corridor between Hysham and the North Dakota border has also expressed their support.

Carefully and strategically improving public access along the Lower Yellowstone will boost our quality of life and yield great economic opportunities for Eastern Montana. Acting decisively to improve access to our public lands and waters will be a critical step toward strengthening our communities and the outdoor way of life Eastern Montana residents have enjoyed for generations, and I’m proud to support the Lower Yellowstone River Coalition’s proposal to improve public access along the Lower Yellowstone.

Geraldine Custer is a Republican representing House District 39 in the Montana State Legislature. She lives in Forsyth.