Celebrating a Special Stream, Montana Style

Blue skies and a light breeze accompanied the aroma of grilling sausages at the inaugural “Celebrate East Rosebud” event held at East Rosebud Lake late last month. While most of the 240 local residents in attendance brought dishes to share – delicious homemade foods piled high on tables in the historic East Rosebud Lake Lodge – all brought a passion for protecting one of Montana’s most beloved streams.

Draining a portion of the Beartooth Mountains near Granite Peak (Montana’s highest at 12,807 feet), East Rosebud Creek cuts a dramatic canyon interlaced with granite-walled lakes and cascading waterfalls as it tumbles northward off the Beartooth Plateau. Just before it leaves the mountains, the creek flows through East Rosebud Lake before spilling into a glacially carved valley and then joining the Stillwater River, a tributary of the Yellowstone.

Both East Rosebud Creek and East Rosebud Lake have long been popular areas for trout fishing, whitewater paddling, hiking, and mountaineering. A cluster of cabins lines the north side of the lake, reminding one of a village in the Alps. Moose browse in the willows while raptors soar overhead.

Because of its outstanding scenic, recreational and geologic values, the U.S. Forest Service has found six miles of East Rosebud Creek right below the lake and seven miles above it to be eligible for designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, our nation’s most powerful river protection tool. One look at the over-the-top beauty of East Rosebud Creek should convince even the fiercest skeptic that it is deserving of Wild and Scenic designation.

It is also endangered of being dammed.

In July 2009, Bozeman-based Hydrodynamics Inc. filed an application for a preliminary permit with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to build a hydropower project on East Rosebud Creek. The project would be located in the Wild and Scenic eligible reach right below East Rosebud Lake. It would entail building a 100-foot wide diversion dam, a 2-mile long penstock, a substation, powerhouse, and transmission lines.

The preliminary permit for East Rosebud Creek was granted by FERC so Hydrodynamics can study the feasibility of the site, but the company has yet to request a permit from the U.S. Forest Service to start moving dirt. This is probably due in part to a dedicated group of local citizens calling themselves the Friends of East Rosebud Creek who have fought the project from day one. As one local resident put it, “We‘re not against hydropower, but less than one half of one percent of Montana’s rivers are eligible for Wild and Scenic designation. These are not the places to put new hydro dams.”

The “Celebrate East Rosebud” event, hosted by the East Rosebud Lake Association and co-sponsored by American Rivers, the Northern Plains Resource Council, and Stillwater Protective Association, was held to educate local concerned citizens about the proposed hydropower project, and to build support for permanent protection of East Rosebud Creek under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

This latest threat to the creek is the second time citizens have had to fight off a proposed hydropower project on East Rosebud Creek. They intend to stop this project like they did the last one, but this time they want to see East Rosebud Creek permanently protected so that they will never have to fight a proposal like this again. 

Based on this overwhelming success of the Celebrate East Rosebud event, the extensive media coverage of the issue, and the fact that the Friends of East Rosebud Creek has collected more than 1,000 signatures through its online petition, Facebook page and website, we’re confident that East Rosebud Creek will be designated as Wild and Scenic in the next few years. This group of citizens has already demonstrated that they have what if takes to save a river, and American Rivers will be right there with them.