By Sydney MacDonald EBS Editorial Assistant

BIG SKY – This year’s Gallatin River Fly Fishing Festival, July 1-3, invited the Big Sky community to participate in a multi-day celebration of local rivers, fish and conservation. 

The event aimed to connect community members back to the water, fish and habitats that are essential to Big Sky’s fly-fishing industry. The proceeds from the festival will be allocated toward river restoration efforts, which are headed by the Gallatin River Task Force in the Upper Gallatin River Watershed. 

Gallatin River Task Force Executive Director Kristen Gardner has been involved with organizing the festival for the past five years. “The amount of passion that exists for the river in our community is really inspiring for what we do to protect the river, especially when we have so many people that support us,” Gardner said.

The weekend kicked off July 1 with a Pesca Fiesta, drawing fly fishing enthusiasts to indulge in reduced prices on gear and a small cookout at the Gallatin River Guides store on Highway 191.

The festival continued to attract large crowds for Saturday’s Pedal, Paddle, Run-Off, where teams of three or more biked, rafted and ran in a relay-style competition. Winner of the relay was team 2 which consisted of Richard Sandza, Chris Corona, and Adam Merkwan. The winner of the guide off was Adam Skaggs.   

Adam Merkwan, a counselor at Camp Big Sky, was one of the winners in Saturday’s competition. “Everyone was having the time of their lives. It was a great opportunity to help out, and draw the community’s attention to the importance of our rivers,” Merkwan said.     

The weekend wrapped up on Sunday at the Gallatin Riverhouse Grill with the Hooked on the Gallatin Banquet and Fundraiser. The evening was filled with acoustic music, delicious barbeque and a live silent auction to benefit the Task Force on the banks of the Gallatin River.

Gallatin River Task Force Education and Communications Coordinator, Stephanie Lynn, has been involved with the Gallatin River Fly Fishing Festival for the past three summers. “This has been our most successful year yet,” Lynn said. 

Lynn helped put on the Hooked on the Gallatin Banquet fundraiser, making sure that everything ran smoothly throughout the evening. “This is our biggest fundraiser, so it directly correlates to providing support for the Gallatin River,” she said. 

According to Gardner, the 2016 Gallatin Fly Fishing Festival raised approximately $23,000 for river restoration, and the numbers for this year’s festival should be available in August. The money raised at this years event will go towards the river access improvement plan, and river access sites. 

Gardner says she considered this year’s Gallatin River Fly Fishing Festival a huge success. “We’re so grateful for the support and help that gets put into this event every year from the community.”