The Hyalite creek drainage and reservoir may constitute the most popular forest recreation area in the state with some 40,000 recreationists visiting the area monthly during the summer.

And those fun seekers are literally loving the place to death.

Target shooting became so rampant in the area, Custer Gallatin National Forest officials banned the practice three years ago out of fears someone would be accidentally shot. There were also concerns about damage to the forest and the mountains of trash those shooters left behind.

More recently, forest officials raised alarms about the high volume of trash thrown into outhouses at trailheads. This despite the fact many signs are posted imploring people not to do so. If the outhouses require closure, there will be further concerns about people defecating elsewhere in the drainage from which Bozeman gets its drinking water.

This is approaching a crisis stage.

The Friends of Hyalite, a nonprofit that raises money for the area raised the alarm about the issue. Thankfully the group is helping the Forest Service manage the problems.

But, unfortunately, no amount of education and pleading with people to change their behavior is likely to solve the problem. While most are reasonable when the errors of their ways are pointed out, there will always be an element that just doesn’t care.

One solution might be to position trash bins near all outhouses in the area. That costs money, of course, to pay people to collect the trash and haul it to the landfill. But increased user fees for campsites could help pay those costs. Perhaps a modest fee for day use could be instituted – an annual pass that would be required to hike, bike, picnic and boat in the drainage. Montana State University supplies students with backpacks rafts and other recreation equipment. The loan of such equipment needs to come with a loud message about how to dispose of trash properly.

Hyalite is a beautiful place. If such a place could be found in most other states, it would likely be a national park. But the aesthetic appeal of the place is being eroded by overuse and thoughtless behavior. And the situation will only get worse as the area’s population increases.

A long-term plan for protecting the area is needed now and needed badly.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Don Beeman, community member
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Sarabeth Rees, community member
  • David Swingle, community member

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