The Montana State Parks and Recreation Board on Friday adopted new rules on camping and human waste disposal for the Smith River.
On a unanimous vote, the board decided to continue policies adopted during the pandemic that officials believe better protected resources and served floaters. The rules go into effect in 2023.
“This is growing out of an effort that culminated earlier this year of looking at the existing Smith River management plan and considering updates and changes to that based on resource impact in the corridor, on the Smith, based on levels of use,” said Hope Stockwell, Parks and Recreation Division administrator with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
The iconic Smith River, known for its limestone canyons, is Montana’s only river requiring a permit to float. Over the last decade and a half interest and use of the river has steadily climbed, with both the number of applicants for the permit lottery and the average group size of floating parties hitting records in recent years.
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With Friday’s vote, Camp Baker, the launch site near White Sulphur Springs, will remain as day-use only. That means camping will not be allowed, with the exception of Sept. 1-Nov. 30 for hunting season. Registration and boat camp selection will also occur over the phone.
FWP received more than 90 comments on a draft rules released in March. Sixteen commenters supported keeping Camp Baker day-use only while a couple of commenters expressed concerns over camping allowance during hunting season. State officials say the site will be staffed during that time.
The board also voted unanimously to mandate human waste be collected in authorized devices and transported to the takeout at Eden Bridge. That means the pit latrines dug at each boat camp will be a thing of the past.
The primary concern for resource managers are the 1,200 pit toilets dug since the 1980s. That comes with both ecological concerns and sanitation concerns for workers, Stockwell told the board.
Twenty one comments favored the decision while 33 opposed. The most common concern from opponents was the floaters would not comply with the rule, but FWP believes concern about the river will drive compliance.
“What we really feel is people care deeply about the Smith, and we think that care for the Smith and their desire to steward it a good way will help them be mindful of these changes if they move forward and to comply,” Stockwell said.
River rangers will also continue to monitor and enforce rules, she said, adding that the agency is still working to determine a list of approved devices.
Multiple western rivers that offer multi-day floats already require devices to pack out waste.
Tom Kuglin is the deputy editor for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau. His coverage focuses on outdoors, recreation and natural resources.