The Upper Blackfoot Mining Complex re-opened to the public this week as the last of the major restoration and reconstruction of the headwaters of the Blackfoot River drew to a close at the end of July.
While the main roads in the area are open to the public, Dave Bowers, UBMC project manager with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, and Steve Opp, Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest Minerals and Geology Program Manager, hope people respect the effort that has been put into restoring the area.
While hiking or walking in the area doesn't present a significant issue, access by off-highway vehicle will be limited and monitored to protect the restoration work, and to give new trees and plants a chance to thrive.
"It would be fantastic if the public would respect staying on the roads that are open," Opp said during a July 31 visit to the area by the BVD. "That's all spelled out by the (Blackfoot) travel management plan."
The Lincoln Ranger District has produced Motor Vehicle Use Maps that show what routes are currently open in the area, and there are plans to build new trails in the area in the future.
"We are working on the survey and design of the OHV trails that are identified in the Travel Plan for the area, and have a good start on identifying routes," Lincoln Ranger District Natural Resource Specialist Josh Lattin told the BVD, "(We) hope to be getting some more routes opened up to the public in the next year or two."
Although a separate, detailed map of the area isn't in the works, Lattin said it might be a good idea, to help ensure people can find their way around and stay on public lands. The area is a patchwork of National Forest land and property owned by the Montana Environmental Trust and the Forest Service is working with the Trust on reciprocating easements for Meadow Creek road, but many other roads there will be closed.
"There are a lot of roads up here that access Environmental Trust lands, essentially private property," Opp said. He added that most of those roads will be signed and blocked with jack leg fences.
"The only really sensitive area, other than the Water Treatment Plant, which is gated off, is up at the Mike Horse (adit)," Bowers said. "Otherwise rockhounds are going to love going up there. It's like Steve said, it's all about respect. If we get that, then I think we're golden."
Despite the reopening, some work still remains in the area.
Bowers said the contractors still need to complete is a 'punch list' of minor items to deal with, including tidying up the borrow areas at the old Mike Horse town site and overlooking the old dam site. Additionally, he said the Montana Natural Resource Damage Program will be seeding plants in the floodplain below the Water Treatment Plant this fall.
"There are thousands of plants that need to go in this fall," he said. "It's in the range of 80,000 plants. (Fall) is a window they like to take advantage of, as far as survivability of the plants."
He said this fall will also see macroinvertebrate studies doing geomorphological assessments of the new channels by Montana State University.
Opp said long-term monitoring to look at revegetation and at the chemistry of the water and the sediments will continue indefinitely.
"Just making sure what we did was the right thing and we don't have to do anything else," he said.
Bowers said folks who haven't been to the area before may be surprised at what they see. He admitted some areas, particularly the lower slopes of Beartrap and Mike Horse drainages, from which the bulk of the mine waste was removed, look "like a bomb went off."
For now, the hillsides are littered with dead timber, without a standing tree in sight.
Bowers said the downed wood is a floodplain treatment that offers soil stability, fights off erosion and creates microtopography and shade for the new plants coming in.
"Long range, we're looking at it decomposing and providing an organic source to amend the soil in the next ten years or so."
"Plus, what a good use for all the dead lodgepole and beetle kill," Opp said.
People will also see large areas of the flood plains that are fenced off.
"The fencing is to protect the areas of plantings from browsing animals," Bowers said. He explained they had started with smaller areas of browse protection, but moving toward fencing larger areas using untreated posts. "They can simply remove the fencing and knock the untreated posts over to decompose," he said.
Looking ahead, Bowers said there are things that will need to be completed in the UBMC after this year. "Mostly putting bows on things, more than anything else. Steve and I still have a fair amount to do up here," Bowers said. "As far as scale it's on a whole different scale. And there's no money. We'll address it as it goes and it's not going to require a lot of money either. We can work with small grants."
Opp said the Forest Service is working with the Blackfoot Challenge to create an interpretive kiosk that will be installed on the road overlooking the historic dam and impoundment site, to provide visitors with the history of the mining and the cleanup of the area.