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Floaters on Smith River

State Parks > Smith River 2021 Smith River Management Plan


The Smith River State Park and River Corridor Recreation Management Plan was last updated in 2009. While much of the direction provided in the 2009 plan remains relevant today, there are a set of management issues for which conditions have changed and warrant attention.  


About the Planning Process

Public input will be an important part of updating the plan. FWP appointed a Smith River Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) to provide important feedback on the management issues. The committee consists of former members of the Smith River Advisory Council, a Parks and Recreation Board representative, and additional members that reflect the diversity of interests in the Smith River and surrounding area. Members include:

Sarah Calhoun: Business owner and community leader, White Sulphur Springs
Colin Cooney: Trout Unlimited, Helena
Triel Culver*: Interested citizen, Billings
Carol Hatfield: USFS representative, White Sulphur Springs
Jane Kollmeyer*: Interested citizen, Helena
Joe Lamson*: Interested citizen, Helena
Brian McGeehan: Smith River outfitter, Bozeman
Michael Meloy*: Smith River landowner, Helena
Ned Morgens*: Smith River landowner, New York City
Mary Moe*: FWP Parks and Recreation Board member, Great Falls
Jennifer Stepleton: Montana Business Assistance Connection rural economic development specialist and former BLM river ranger, Helena

*Former Advisory Council Member

FWP will also consult with key tribal representatives given the important cultural and heritage resources associated with the Smith River.

Later this year, FWP will invite the public to provide input on different alternatives for addressing the management issues.

Key Management Issues

FWP will update it management plan by looking at a small set of key issues related to the popularity of the Smith River. The issues are intrinsically tied together by evidence of growing use and the need to balance recreation with natural, cultural, and heritage resource protection. Staff members recognize, for instance, that it is difficult to obtain a permit to float the river, and have observed that the number of floaters and size of groups are impacting the natural, cultural, and heritage resources. (Permit applications have increased by 146% over the past 10 years, with a record number of 15,160 received in 2021.) At the same time, stewardship of natural and cultural resources remains a priority, and so FWP is seeking ways to protect this invaluable river corridor for years to come.

Management issues to be addressed in the plan include:

  • Managing use at Camp Baker and deciding whether to discontinue camping there on a permanent basis
  • Instituting a system for human waste pack-out consistent with legislative direction
  • Examining the permit lottery system to assess options for increasing the odds of people who consistently apply but are unable to draw a permit
  • Implementing resource protection measures to preserve and mitigate further deterioration of boat camps and riverbank landings



Currently, the planning timeframe is as follows:

  • July/August - FWP staff gather initial feedback and input from the PAC and tribal representatives

  • August/September - FWP staff draft a Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) assessment

  • October - FWP staff present the MEPA assessment to the Parks and Recreation Board

  • November - FWP opens public comment period and holds outreach meetings

  • December - FWP staff incorporate public input on the MEPA assessment and prepare a decision notice to be presented at the December board meeting 

FWP anticipates implementation of the new plan will occur over the 2022 and 2023 float seasons.



For more information, contact Region 4 Information and Education Program Manager Dave Hagengruber at 406-454-5845 or