Even it hadn't been for Norman Maclean's ironic writings, Montana's Blackfoot Valley would still be one of the most prized locations in the entire state. Whether it's fishing, floating, or camping, the Blackfoot has been a favorite destination and "Missoula's backyard" for generations.

But as Western Montana grows, so does the debate over how to manage the Blackfoot for the future. A case in point has been the "Blackfoot Stewardship Act". Authored by Senator Jon  Tester and a coalition of user groups, the proposal hasn't been able to gain enough Congressional traction for approval.

Now, the Bureau of Land Management is ready to present its plans for the thousand of acres along the lower river, with the goal of preserving the valley's wildlife and water quality, while still allowing for improved public access and recreation in the future.

The development of the plan was sparked by the BLM's recent acquisition of more than 43,000 acres of land from the Nature Conservancy. That included a huge stretch of the watershed upriver from Johnsrud with such key areas as Gold Creek, Belmont, and Twin Creek. There are also additional areas in the Ninemile Prairie. That's right in the heart of the country that's seen increasing recreation pressure over the past decade, both on the river and onshore.

This week, BLM is hosting a pair of local meetings to discuss their initial ideas. The first will be on April 11, from 2:30 until 4:30 pm in the Cooper Room at the Missoula Public Library. The second will be on Wednesday, April 12th, beginning at 5:30 pm at the Red Barn at Hellgate Lions Park.

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