Exhibits: The Lands: National Landscape Conservation System
Wild & Scenic Rivers
A river or river section designated by Congress or the secretary of the Interior, under the authority of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, to protect outstanding scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or other values, and to preserve the river or river section in its free-flowing condition. The law recognizes three classes of rivers: Wild, Scenic, and Recreational. The BLM manages 36 Wild and Scenic Rivers (20 percent of the WSR system) amounting to 2,056 miles of river, equaling about one million acres.
Upper Missouri Wild & Scenic River
As a route of western expansion the Missouri River has few equals. Lewis and Clark spent three weeks, from May 24 through June 13, 1805, exploring the segment that is now the Upper Missouri National Wild & Scenic River. Today this 174-mile stretch is considered to be the premier component of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail.
At the time of tge Lewis & Clark expedition, the primary tribe in the area was that of the Blackfeet, who jealously guarded these lands as their hunting grounds. The vast buffalo herds provided them with most of their food and raw materials, and the plants which grew around the river provided them with the rest. Several years after the Lewis & Clark expedition, a treaty was negotiated with the Blackfeet for passage, and for the next 50 years, the Missouri River became a major highway for westward expansion.
The American Fur Company opened a fort to ferry supplies and furs, which eventually moved to Fort Benton. By the time the fur trade collapsed, steamboat traffic was already established on the Upper Missouri. They did a brisk traffic, supplying the booming gold camps in southwest Montana as well as ferrying hopeful prospectors. The railroad came through in 1887, spelling the end of the traffic on the river and the buffalo.
In 1833, artist Karl Bodmer had traveled the route of the Upper Missouri River and made detailed paintings and sketches of the landscape and its inhabitants. Although the inhabitants have changed, the landscape remains unchanged. The wild and scenic river passes through the Upper Missouri Breaks, a clay badlands where the river has carved the crumbly cliffs along the bank into fantastic formations. It is a favorite pasttime of today's river runners to match each formation with its description in the journals of Lewis & Clark. Of the White Cliffs, Captain Lewis wrote, "The hills and river clifts, which we passed today exhibit a most romantic appearance . . ." and described " . . . eligant ranges of lofty freestone buildings, having their parapets well stocked with statuary . ." and ". . . seens of visionary enchantment . . . "
Much of this land is preserved as the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument, also managed as part of the National Landscape Conservation System. Should you stop and hike on the BLM lands around the shore, you may find some trace of the human passing-- abandoned log cabins and similar artifacts. Please leave everything as you found it. Below the wild and scenic section, the river passes through Charles Russell National Wildlife Refuge, where you can see nearly every animal which Lewis & Clark recorded as seeing, although not in such quantity.
The entire wild and scenic section of this historic river, from Fort Benton downriver to the Fred Robinson Bridge on US 191 can easily be paddled in a week, through shorter trips are more popular. The Bureau of Land Management manages a small visitor center in historic Fort Benton, Montana.
P.O. Box 1389
Fort Benton, MT 59442
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