Sen. Max Baucus floats the Madison River

Mike Greener/Chronicle

Students from Wave Train Kayak team paddle past Sen. Max Baucus as he and numerous members from non for profits and local businesses floated the Madison River Monday afternoon. 

THREE FORKS – Sometimes, the importance of a decision is best understood in retrospect. If so, a float trip from one Madison River access site to another provided revealing hindsight as to the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

On Monday, state leaders and members of several local businesses and nonprofit groups gathered along the Madison River east of Three Forks to celebrate a federal-funding program Montana-style: with a float trip.

They unloaded a hodge-podge of boats at the Milwaukee Fishing Access Site, an area below Interstate 90 that was created with Land and Water Conservation Fund money.

“We chose sites that would bring out what the Land and Water Conservation Fund has done for Montana,” said organizer Aaron Murphy of Hilltop Policy Solutions. “Most people don’t know what the Land and Water Conservation Fund is, but they know their local fishing access sites.”

Soon, the shallow river was filled with red and blue rafts, green canoes and kayaks of every color.

The kayaks were piloted by teenage students in Bozeman’s Wave Train Kayaking School. Instructor Dave Zinn said he gave them the option of kayaking Yankee Jim Canyon on the Yellowstone River or participating in the float and bringing attention to the cause.

“They all said they wanted to do the float. They thought it would be cool to float with a senator,” Zinn said.

With the U.S. Congress in recess for August, Murphy invited Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, who has always advocated for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

A 1964 law created the fund to acquire land and water or easements for the purposes of recreation and natural resource protection. Funding comes from a maximum of $900 million in fees collected from oil and gas companies drilling offshore.

“I’ve never understood why some years Congress thinks they can’t fund it,” said Three Forks Mayor Gene Townsend. “It’s not taxpayer dollars, and it’s done good things for a lot of small Montana towns.”

About 70 percent of Montana’s fishing access sites were acquired using the funding.

“This money is vitally important, especially because the dollars are matched one-to-one,” said state parks director Chaz Van Genderen. “We’ve put the money all over Montana and it’s created a legacy.”

From city parks and swimming pools to fishing access sites and state park upgrades, for almost 50 years, Montanans have been the beneficiaries of millions of the conservation fund dollars.

In 1996, Townsend applied for and received a $25,000 matching grant from the fund to build 10 miles of a paved recreation trail from the Madison River west of Three Forks to the Missouri River Headwaters State Park.

Since then, Townsend has watched the grants dwindle.

“They had money in there when President Clinton was in office but it’s been pretty slim in recent years,” Townsend said.

Townsend rowed his one-man pontoon boat down the river while Baucus sat in the prow of a blue raft. As the highway noise was replaced by birdsong, the floatilla eased over the riffles past cottonwoods and willows on its way to the Missouri River Headwaters State Park, which was developed with the funding.

“It’s even more valuable than we thought at the time,” Baucus said.

This year, the Obama administration proposed a conservation fund budget of $600 million while the Senate proposed $646 million. On the House side, an appropriations subcommittee zeroed the fund out a few weeks ago, but the full House did not vote on the appropriations bill before they adjourned for the August recess.

The two Houses will have nine days to reach an agreement on the budget after they return in September. Baucus said he thinks Republican Rep. Steve Daines will support the fund.

“He’s a Montanan, too. It’s up to us to remind them what the law says,” Baucus said. “We in our state pride ourselves on being the last best place. One of our obligations is to keep working on it so when we leave this place, we leave it in better shape than we found it.”

*Laura Lunquist can be reached at 582-2638 or llundquist@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter at [@The breakout is not absolutely needed if space is an issue Read by Ted//ne/Mike

SUGHED: Groups float river for federal funding

By LAURA LUNDQUIST Chronicle Staff Writer

Breakout: Land and Water Conservation Fund float participants - Mystery Ranch Backpacks - Simms - Montana Whitewater - Wave Train Kayaking School - Montana Hunters and Anglers - Nature Conservancy - Montana Wilderness Association - Wilderness Society - American Rivers

THREE FORKS – Sometimes, the importance of a decision is best understood in retrospect. If so, a float trip from one Madison River access site to another provided revealing hindsight as to the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

On Monday, state leaders and members of several local businesses and nonprofit groups gathered along the Madison River east of Three Forks to celebrate a federal-funding program Montana-style: with a float trip.

They unloaded a hodge-podge of boats at the Milwaukee Fishing Access Site, an area below Interstate 90 that was created with Land and Water Conservation Fund money.

“We chose sites that would bring out what the Land and Water Conservation Fund has done for Montana,” said organizer Aaron Murphy of Hilltop Policy Solutions. “Most people don’t know what the Land and Water Conservation Fund is, but they know their local fishing access sites.”

Soon, the shallow river was filled with red and blue rafts, green canoes and kayaks of every color.

The kayaks were piloted by teenage students in Bozeman’s Wave Train Kayaking School. Instructor Dave Zinn said he gave them the option of kayaking Yankee Jim Canyon on the Yellowstone River or participating in the float and bringing attention to the cause.

“They all said they wanted to do the float. They thought it would be cool to float with a senator,” Zinn said.

With the U.S. Congress in recess for August, Murphy invited Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, who has always advocated for full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

A 1964 law created the fund to acquire land and water or easements for the purposes of recreation and natural resource protection. Funding comes from a maximum of $900 million in fees collected from oil and gas companies drilling offshore.

“I’ve never understood why some years Congress thinks they can’t fund it,” said Three Forks Mayor Gene Townsend. “It’s not taxpayer dollars, and it’s done good things for a lot of small Montana towns.”

About 70 percent of Montana’s fishing access sites were acquired using the funding.

“This money is vitally important, especially because the dollars are matched one-to-one,” said state parks director Chaz Van Genderen. “We’ve put the money all over Montana and it’s created a legacy.”

From city parks and swimming pools to fishing access sites and state park upgrades, for almost 50 years, Montanans have been the beneficiaries of millions of the conservation fund dollars.

In 1996, Townsend applied for and received a $25,000 matching grant from the fund to build 10 miles of a paved recreation trail from the Madison River west of Three Forks to the Missouri River Headwaters State Park.

Since then, Townsend has watched the grants dwindle.

“They had money in there when President Clinton was in office but it’s been pretty slim in recent years,” Townsend said.

Townsend rowed his one-man pontoon boat down the river while Baucus sat in the prow of a blue raft. As the highway noise was replaced by birdsong, the floatilla eased over the riffles past cottonwoods and willows on its way to the Missouri River Headwaters State Park, which was developed with the funding.

“It’s even more valuable than we thought at the time,” Baucus said.

This year, the Obama administration proposed a conservation fund budget of $600 million while the Senate proposed $646 million. On the House side, an appropriations subcommittee zeroed the fund out a few weeks ago, but the full House did not vote on the appropriations bill before they adjourned for the August recess.

The two Houses will have nine days to reach an agreement on the budget after they return in September. Baucus said he thinks Republican Rep. Steve Daines will support the fund.

“He’s a Montanan, too. It’s up to us to remind them what the law says,” Baucus said. “We in our state pride ourselves on being the last best place. One of our obligations is to keep working on it so when we leave this place, we leave it in better shape than we found it.”

Laura Lunquist can be reached at 582-2638 or llundquist@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter at @llundquist.

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