Missouri Headwaters Paddler’s Trail

April 21, 2023

By BSWC Member Haile Houghton

As our mission states, Gallatin Valley Land Trust connects people, communities, and open lands through conservation of working farms and ranches, healthy rivers, and wildlife habitat, and the creation of trails in the Montana headwaters of the Missouri and Upper Yellowstone Rivers.

With this mission in mind, the Missouri Headwaters Paddler’s Trail was dreamt up in 2022 by Big Sky Watershed Corps Member Nell Gehrke. Her vision was to expand GVLT’s traditional idea of a trail, and to create something that was more accessible to recreators and outdoor enthusiasts of a variety of levels of ability.

Some of the main goals of the water trail are to educate our community on proper waterway etiquette, in alliance with GVLT’s Outside Kind partnership, to educate on why Leave No Trace Principles are specifically impactful near water sources and expand our outreach to areas beyond our typical reach.

The trailhead (or “put in” as it’s better known in the paddler world) is located at the Missouri River boat launch in Headwater’s State Park. Along the trail, you float past the Fairweather fishing access, and end (take-out) at Toston Dam. Paddlers can choose to continue for a more strenuous adventure or start at Fairweather Fishing Access for a less challenging route with a shorter time commitment.

GVLT received a generous $4,000 education and outreach focused grant from the Montana Association of Conservation Districts to help fund the development of the trail. We have also partnered with Fish, Wildlife, Parks to provide further education on best practices for keeping our waterways clean and avoiding the spread of invasive species.

We are currently in the process of creating the necessary mapping and signage, with the valuable expertise of Molly Stratton and Tony Thatcher. We have set a date for our opening day volunteer clean up event for Tuesday, May 17th. This event will take place on site at the beginning of the water trail, and dependent on water levels and related safety, GVLT will hopefully offer the opportunity for paddlers to clean up while floating the new water-based route. More information and official invite coming soon, as we have a better understanding of the potential runoff conditions later this month.

GVLT team members that had the opportunity to float the trail were grateful to witness cliff swallows, a bald eagle, golden eagles, pelicans, a beaver, and various other birds of prey, making the trail an incredible sight for wildlife aficionados.