A Conservation Gem at the Headwaters of the Clark Fork River
In southwest Montana, Western Rivers Conservancy is working to conserve the last remaining private inholding on Racetrack Creek, a large headwater tributary to Montana’s upper Clark Fork River. In June 2023, we purchased a remote 121-acre property called The Oxbows to protect prime fish and wildlife habitat in an area that is critical for large animals moving between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to the south and the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem to the north.
Racetrack Creek runs clear and cold from the high mountain lakes of the Flint Creek Range and flows for 23 miles before joining the mighty Clark Fork, Montana’s largest river by volume. Much of the upper creek is protected within the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The Oxbows property that WRC is working to conserve contains a mile of the creek inside the national forest and is spread across a scenic, shallow canyon with willow-covered wetlands, densely forested hillsides and dramatic mountain vistas in every direction.
Protecting Habitat and Public Access
The Oxbows is located where upper Racetrack Creek changes from a high-altitude, high-gradient headwater creek to a slower, meandering stream. This transition zone makes for prime rearing habitat for westslope cutthroat trout and potential habitat for endangered bull trout. With its mix of open grasslands and dense forests, the property also supports diverse wildlife, including moose, mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk and wolf.
In addition to its superb fish and wildlife habitat, The Oxbows lies immediately adjacent to the Racetrack Campground and Picnic Area, the only public recreation site in the area. This spot is popular during hunting season, and campers enjoy access to trout fishing on Racetrack Creek. Were the property to be developed, it would have a significant negative impact on the campground and the surrounding natural landscape.
Now that we’ve purchased The Oxbows, we are working to secure funding through the Land and Water Conservation fund in order to convey the property to the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, keeping a pristine reach of upper Racetrack Creek permanently intact. Ensuring these riverlands remain undeveloped will benefit fish and wildlife, and all those who set out to explore and enjoy this rugged corner of Big Sky Country.