It’s May in the Ruby Valley. The first welcoming signs of spring have already begun to show themselves like old friends stopping by unannounced. The smell of willow adds a touch of sweetness to the warming air. Red-winged blackbirds in the distance call and flicker for their mate. A rancher waves on his way to check on his calves. As I string up my fly rod on the banks of the Ruby, watching a few blue wing olive mayflies struggle to take flight, I can’t help but think of the opportunities that spring and the year ahead present.
And I am grateful that the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance (RVSA) and its partners are so committed to public access and shared stewardship in the Ruby Valley for the good of all. After all, our working lands, clean water, wildlife habitat, and recreational access are tied together, and we’re proud to work towards management solutions that support all these elements.
In this case, committed families and RVSA partners have been working together for years to maintain access along this beautiful stretch of the Ruby River. Starting back in the mid-1990s, three civic-minded ranching families - the Barnosky, Doornbos, and Guinnane families - began partnering with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to provide river access near Alder and Sheridan.
Then and now, their leases provide critical access along a 40-mile section of the river where access points are few and far between. The Ruby can be as deep as it is wide, which makes wading below the high-water mark, as allowed by Montana’s best-in-the-nation stream access law, challenging. To make access easier, these leases generously allow anglers to step above the high-water mark on the landowners’ property, making these leases especially valuable to anglers.
In 2015, a funding shortfall threatened to jeopardize these three leases and the access they provide. For five years, the leases were financially supported by Montana Trout Unlimited (MTU) with the help of three Trout Unlimited chapters. This arrangement was part of an agreement struck between MTU, FWP, and the landowners, whereby the landowners graciously accepted reduced compensation for the leases, MTU made a five-year commitment to supplement FWP’s contribution, and FWP pursued long-term funding for these fishing access sites. As local citizens and leaseholders, members of the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance urged FWP to find a solution to maintain the leases.
The hard work of all the partners involved paid off. In 2020, FWP verbally committed to retaining the three leases, and in January 2021, these leases were renewed for two years. At MTU and the RVSA, we are going to continue to work with FWP to find a long-term solution to provide and enhance opportunities for all Montanans.
Please respect the access sites they’ve secured for all of us while also respecting their property and if you know these families, thank them.
Chris Edgington, MT Trout Unlimited