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Most mornings for the past five months, I’ve watched my wife leave our house in her scrubs to go to work at the hospital. The majority of her patients are older and have underlying conditions that make them highly vulnerable to COVID-19. Being a nurse is a tough job, but during a pandemic, the emotional toll it takes is especially heavy.

To de-stress, we head to the river on most weekends with our chocolate lab, Gus, and fly rods in hand. In early June, we floated the Big Hole for two days during the salmonfly hatch. Then we hit the upper Madison when the golden stoneflies were coming off. Now we head to the Yellowstone – our home river – on most weekends.

Lately, we haven’t bothered fishing much. We just let the river take us away, soak in the warm rays of the sun, throw the stick for Gus, and look for agates and petrified wood on the gravel bars.

Just being on the river brings us peace.

We’re certainly not the only Montanans who have sought refuge on our rivers during the pandemic. Recently I spoke with a good friend who owns a boating shop in Bozeman. He told me that business has never been better. Apparently, the number of Americans who have taken up fly-fishing during the pandemic has skyrocketed, too. That certainly seemed to be the case the last time I drove up the Gallatin Canyon.

Rivers have always played the role of healer for Montanans. Often times when I’ve floated the Smith River over the years, I’ve watched people carry urns onto their rafts at Camp Baker. I strike up conversations with them to hear their stories. Many told me they promised their father or grandfather that they would take them on their favorite river one last time. I understand.

Lately I’ve been asking myself how I could cope with the social isolation brought on by the pandemic if I didn’t have rivers to lean on. Honestly, I question if I could keep it together. Rivers are my church. They’re my mental health counselor. I feel their sweet embrace even when I can’t hug my closest friends and family members.

If rivers mean as much to you as they do to me, you can do something right now to give back to them. Call Montana’s congressional delegation – Sen. Tester, Sen. Daines and Congressman Gianforte – and ask them to introduce and pass the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act. This made-in-Montana bill would forever protect 17 rivers flowing across public lands in the upper Missouri and Yellowstone river drainages by designating them under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Among the gems in this bill are the Gallatin, Madison, Yellowstone and Smith rivers, plus several of their tributaries like Hyalite Creek, the Taylor Fork and Tenderfoot Creek.

By designating these rivers as Wild and Scenic, it will ensure they remain clean and free flowing in perpetuity while allowing existing uses like fishing, paddling, camping and ranching to continue.

You won’t be alone in supporting the Montana Headwaters Legacy Act. Since it was first proposed a few years ago, more than 3,000 Montanans and 1,300 Montana businesses have formally endorsed it. A statewide public opinion poll commissioned by the University of Montana last September found that eight out of 10 Montanans supported the bill.

Only rivers could garner that kind of support in these polarized times.

Hopefully, a year from now we can look back on the coronavirus pandemic and be thankful that we made it through the darkest days, scarred but still standing. When that time comes, I know the first place I want to go with my friends and family – to a clean, free-flowing river that will forever remain that way because of our efforts.

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Scott Bosse is an avid angler, boater and all-around river lover who lives in Bozeman. For the last decade he has been the Northern Rockies director for American Rivers.