So often you hear the lament, "it ain't what it used to be," connected with places in the outdoors. This time, however, that's a good thing.
Crow Creek Falls is located almost due east of Radersburg. From the trailhead above Crow Creek, it is a 3½-mile hike to the falls. My previous hike to Crow Creek Falls was the summer of 1996. My daughter, not exactly a budding out-
doors woman, accompanied me. We got off the trail, got temporarily misoriented, and wound up hiking in the creek. Eventually, we had to climb straight up a high, steep bank with two dogs to get back on the (unmarked) trail. She swore she'd never go hiking with me again.
The falls themselves were beautiful. There's nothing like them for more than a hundred miles. But, the rusted bulldozers, a decrepit crane, empty blue plastic chemical containers, and other assorted junk were enough to make you spit. How could an area so beautiful be turned into a junkyard? The pursuit of a buck had worked its black magic, again.
Since then, Crow Creek Falls has become public property. The broken equipment and junk have been removed. The financial support of the American Land Conservancy and Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust combined with the hard work of Butch Marita, Dick Juntunen, Dwain Carter, Greg Howlett and many others returned the area around the falls to something of which Montanans can be proud. Or, so I had been told.
Memorial Day was the perfect weather for a hike to the falls. The trip was longer than I remembered. The trail was marked. On my way up the trail, I passed three small groups of folks returning from the falls. Without exception, all had a smile on their face. A few offered unsolicited remarks on how pleased they were with the cleanup.
Crow Creek rushed past the trail. Days of rain combined with melting snow to swell the creek beyond its banks. At the base of the falls, a 40-foot column of water slammed into a turbid pool of green water. No wonder many people call Crow Creek Falls the jewel of the Helena National Forest.
This time I brought a fishing rod. Three casts resulted in three snags. The undertow at the base of the falls took my hook and immediately sucked it to the bottom where it wrapped around heaven knows what. I was so happy about the condition of the falls, I didn't care.
During the return trip, I made up for the impossible fishing conditions at the falls by fishing my way back to the trailhead. There are numerous places to wet a fly or dip a hook along the trail. On a series of riffles behind a log jam, I hooked and landed a brightly colored eight-inch rainbow trout. I put the rainbow on a stringer and back into the creek.
I moved down the creek several times and tried several promising spots but the rushing water made for tough fishing conditions. Along the bank, behind a large boulder, a nice fish snagged itself on my hook. Water as cold as liquid ice gave the trout superhero strength as it leapt, twisted and somersaulted above the surface.
When the fish was close to me, I pulled it out of the water (no net) and grasped for it as it swung past my face. I missed. I clutched at the fish on the backswing but wound up with a fist full of air. It was the last chance the little fish allowed. As a gymnast dismounting from the high bar, the fish executed a double reverse summersault with a twist and entered the water without a splash.
The bright orange belly suggested the escapee may have been a brook trout. At about 9 or 10 inches, together with the rainbow, they would have made a nice gift for my neighbor who rewards me with summer produce from his garden in thanks for wild fish and game. Alas, the sun was falling and there was just enough time to get back to the trailhead and a paved road before dark. A lone diminutive rainbow was a poor offering and, he too, was granted a reprieve.
Success stories like Crow Creek Falls are important to keep in mind. Most resource controversies wind up with the parties at each other's throats and ultimately, in court. The recovery of Crow Creek Falls and the resulting transfer of the area to the public trust is something everyone should be happy about. So the next time you become depressed because you feel another nail has been driven into the coffin of our natural resources, take heart and don't despair. These are the good 'ol days.