Simms Fishing and Trout Unlimited partner on three-year project
By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF
GALLATIN VALLEY – There’s a new conservation cowboy in town by the name of Connor Parrish. His mission: To protect and conserve the Gallatin River with funding from Simms Fishing Products and the help of many local partners.
In December of 2020, Simms announced a three-year partnership with Trout Unlimited, the focus of which is on TU’s Home Rivers Initiative, a multi-regional program that places full-time TU staff members in a watershed to live and work.
To make Parrish’s placement in Bozeman possible, Simms has committed $250,000 over the next three years to fund his efforts to reconnect and restore the Gallatin. Simms held a welcome event on June 3 to bring Parrish into the fold, as well as gather local organizations that will be a part of the project.
“The purpose of the gathering on Thursday was to unite all of these different organizations who are fighting the good fight, trying to keep our waters as healthy as possible,” said John Frazier, manager of public relations and content and digital marketing at Simms. “We strongly believe that significant positive conservation impacts are accomplished easier when community comes together and works towards a common cause.”
On a 90-degree day, guests gathered in a white tent in the parking lot of Simms headquarters near Four Corners to mingle and hear from Parrish, who serves as project manager, as well as Simms CEO Casey Sheahan, Frazier and Montana Water Project Director at TU, Patrick Byorth.
Byorth emphasized the amount of wild land in the region urging the importance of conserving and protecting the area. He referenced 10 other projects underway along the Gallatin River and offered praise to Parrish, who he said is “well educated” and experienced in his field.
The idea for Simms to engage in this partnership was born out of a desire to give back to their own backyard, according to Frazier. Additionally, with the shutdowns spurred by COVID-19, fishing license sales increased according to Diane Bristol, senior director of employee and community engagement, which prompted Simms to consider conservation projects a little closer to home.
“A lot of our waters are a stone’s throw away from our headquarters here,” Frazier said. “We wanted to do something significant with conservation and we wanted to do something close to home. For us the Gallatin is such an amazing resource and it’s right here. It’s not only vital to our local economy but also to the community of Bozeman itself so it really made a ton of sense to place a significant conservation focus on the Gallatin.”
Bristol concurred with Frazier and emphasized the collaborative nature of the Home Rivers Initiative.
“We really like this idea of bringing it together under one effort, and then working to support however we can,” said Bristol. “The nice thing is that Connor is now doing all of that legwork and identifying the opportunities, versus having these little bits and pieces to figure out the who, what, and where.”
There are many local organizations that will be joining in on this effort, a few of which were at the event on June 3. In addition to the Madison Gallatin Trout Unlimited Chapter, some of the partners are: the Gallatin Watershed Council, Gallatin River Task Force, Montana Aquatic Resources Services, Four Corners Foundation, Custer Gallatin National Forest and Fish Wildlife and Parks.
These organizations are also joined by 10 Barrel Brewing, which released a limited summer ale named “Reel Good” in partnership with Simms. A portion of every purchase of “Reel Good” will go toward supporting the Home Rivers Initiative.
Parrish comes to Bozeman after completing his master’s degree at Central Washington University in 2017. He has plenty of experience working in the realm of fisheries as well as nonprofits.
“I really appreciated not only his expertise and his experience related to this role, I really liked that he’s so passionate about [the work,]” said Bristol who served on the interviewing team that chose Parrish. “He’s coming in full of energy and curiosity I love that too.”
Parrish’s work will focus on community outreach as well as planting and cleanup events among other things.
“My goals are to get the community aware of issues going on in their own watershed,” Parrish said. “There’s a lot of people who have grown up here and maybe are more familiar with it, but this area is growing really quickly, and people are coming here because of the beauty of this place and because of its natural resources.”
Parrish’s efforts will be overseen by Byorth.
“I think Connor represents the typical Trout Unlimited employee,” Byorth said. “He’s well educated, has a great experience in the field of stream restoration, and has a deep commitment to improving fisheries and land and watersheds.”
Byorth shared TU’s larger strategy for the Gallatin River Basin in a June 8 interview with EBS, which includes efforts to protect and enhance stream flows and to open up barriers where fish need to pass back and forth.
“Gallatin HRI is very timely because we’re at the confluence of a great period of population growth and development,” Byorth said. “The wild lands that surround us are in a transitional period where it gives us a good opportunity, as conservationists, to work in a growing community, a changing community, and hopefully set a pathway where we can sustain our cold-water fisheries well into the future.”
There have already been activations of the Gallatin HRI project since January of 2021 including the Dry Creek Restoration Project, featuring a tree planting in May. Simms employees went outside and got their hands dirty volunteering at that critical point of the Gallatin to help reinforce the stream bank and provide riparian habitat. There was also a willow planting volunteer effort earlier in the year.
While Parrish doesn’t have a concrete plan for what projects will happen yet, he shared some goals he has for taking care of the Gallatin.
“Trying to find different ways to conserve water to keep water clean is going to be the central goal of this partnership,” he said. “Whether we’re doing that through actual on the ground restoration projects or doing community engagement and we are all going to have that goal in mind.”
Parrish said that there will be more riparian planting efforts along with projects that help reduce sediment that goes into streams and fixing undersized culverts.
“I think people consider the Gallatin to be a pretty healthy waterway, and it is, but we are trying to make sure that we’ve got plans in place that keep it that way,” Frazier said. “We don’t want it to become an endangered river where you have to be more reactive and make things happen quick. We’re trying to make it as healthy as possible for future generations.”
Bristol also chimed in on the longevity of the project expressing the hope that these efforts will not end with this collaboration.
“What we really like about the Home Rivers Initiative, is building the foundation for this to continue to focus on the Gallatin River forever,” Bristol said. “Having these people working together establishing this format is something that we would like to see continue beyond when we term the project complete.”