By Sharlyn Izurieta Explorebigsky.com contributor
The mighty Missouri River conjures images of
Lewis and Clark’s expedition, beautiful landscapes,
and the history of the area through which
it flows. The river is a lifeline for agriculture,
industry, tourism and recreation, just as it was
during the early days of the Montana Territory
before settlement of the lands west of the Mississippi.
The Missouri River’s source is high in the Centennial Mountains along the Continental Divide in Southwest Montana. Lewis and Clark, on
their famous trek to the Pacific in the early 1800s,
followed the Missouri River to where they believed the source was located: a spring near Lemhi Pass.
Then in the 1890s, Jacob V. Brower, a historian,
naturalist and explorer, sought the true source
of the Missouri: a tributary spring bubbling up
from the ground in a location that is the f arthest
upstream, along water miles, from where the
Missouri ends. Using this premise, Brower followed
the longest of the three headwater rivers,
the Jefferson, to locate the source up Hell Roaring Canyon near the Idaho boarder in the Centennial Mountains.
The source, called Brower’s Spring, is approximately
100 miles from the spring Lewis and Clark
found near Lemhi Pass. The Lewis and Clark Trail
Heritage Foundation’s Headwaters Chapter verified
the river’s source in 1995. In a presentation
to the Centennial Valley Association in 2011,
John LaRandeau, from the Army Corps of Engineers,
corroborated this finding.
A copper plate left by Brower and area ranchers
in the mid-1890s marks Brower’s Spring, as does a
modern cairn left by the LCTHF members. From
that source, the stream flows 298.3 miles. Along
the way it merges with the Red Rock River, the
Beaverhead, the Big Hole and then the Jefferson,
where it arrives in Three Forks and Headwaters
State Park. It finally merges with the Madison
and the Gallatin, the “official” start of the Missouri River.
The river’s length is 2,619 miles from its source at
Hell Roaring Creek and 2,321 miles from Three
Forks, Mont., to where it joins the Mississippi near
St. Louis. The entire Missouri River basin has a
drainage area of 529,350 square miles, including
about 9,700 square miles in Canada.
The headwaters of the Missouri River are extremely
important, not only for the communities and residents
living in Southwest Montana, but for every
landowner and community downstream. Nine local
watershed groups are working to conserve and enhance
the water resources in the headwaters region.
Together these groups make up the Missouri
Headwaters Partnership. Their common goal is to enhance our water resources.
The MHP’s intent is to provide
information, education, create a dialog
with residents and partners, to
support individual local watershed
groups and basin-wide projects.
Each group has identified priorities
and projects based on the needs of
each sub-watershed, and also recognizing
their stewardship responsibilities
to downstream neighbors.
The partnership began in 2001 with
a meeting between the Big Hole
Watershed Committee, the Jefferson
River Watershed Council and
the Beaverhead Watershed Committee.
The groups realized the importance of working together, sharing
ideas, and providing an avenue for
residents to look at the region from
a watershed perspective.
After the initial meeting, the Ruby
Watershed Council joined the
partnership, and by 2006 there were
eight members. The Centennial Valley
Association joined the partnership in 2011.
Each November, the MHP hosts an
annual meeting and potluck, inviting
partners and residents of the nine
sub-watersheds. This is an opportunity
for the public to meet watershed
group coordinators, board members
and other people living in the region.
Notable speakers present on important
issues that affect all watersheds in Southwest Montana.
“The True Utmost Reaches of the Missouri.” Donald F. Nell and Anthony Demetriades. Montana Outdoors Magazine. 2005.
Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System Master Water Control Manual for the Missouri River Basin. A US Army Corps of Engineers report. 2006.
The Missouri Headwaters Partnership’s purpose is to create a
regional collaborative organization
that promotes economic and
ecologic sustainability by supporting
the natural resource integrity,
water quality, water quantity, and
economic and ecologic values of
the landscapes and communities of
the Missouri River headwaters basin.
Residents of Southwest Montana
have the opportunity to help protect
our local watersheds and help
our neighbors downstream. There are many ways to contribute and protect these resources.
To learn how, visit the websites of the
nine Missouri Headwaters Partners.
Each local watershed group will
have information about projects,
annual and public meetings,
volunteer opportunities, or how to
donate. Working together enhances
our local water resources and
improves the mighty Missouri.
The Beaverhead Watershed Committee
Contact: Katie Tackett, Coordinator
201 N. Parkview, Dillon, MT 59725
The Big Hole Watershed Committee
Contact: Kevin Brown, Executive Director
PO Box 21, Divide, Montana 59727
(406) 370-7230 and (406)-960-4855
The Centennial Valley Association
Contact: Louise Bruce, Field Representative
215 E. Helena St., Dillon, MT 59725
The Greater Gallatin Watershed Council
Contact: Sierra Harris, Coordinator
PO Box 751
Bozeman, MT 59771-0751
Blue Water Task Force
Contact: Kristin Gardner, Executive Director
PO Box 160513, Big Sky, MT 59716
The Jefferson River Watershed Council
Ted Dodge, Watershed Coordinator
C/O P.O. Box 585, Pony, MT 59747
The Lower Jefferson Watershed Council
Bob Sims, Coordinator
1554 N. Hwy 69 , Boulder, MT 59632
Madison Watershed Partnership
Sunni Heikes-Knapton, Coordinator
PO Box 1178, Ennis, MT 59729
The Ruby Watershed Council
Rebecca Mayfield Ramsey, Coordinator
PO Box 295 , Sheridan, MT 59749
(406) 842-5741 x106 – office
Other regional and statewide watershed groups:
Montana Watershed Coordination Council
PO Box 17106, Missoula, MT 59808
Missouri River Conservation District Council
Contact: Laurie Riley, Coordinator
1601 2nd Ave. N., Suite 601, Great Falls, MT 59401
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