Applications to float Montana’s Smith River were the second highest on record this year.
The recently completed lottery saw 14,497 applicants for one of the coveted float permits. That is up nearly 700 applications from 2022, but still slightly below the all-time record of 15,160 set in 2021. The decade-long average is about 10,000, although has generally trended upward, particularly in recent years including a surge associated with the pandemic. In 2013, the state received only 6,700 applications.
The Smith is Montana’s only river requiring a permit to float. It flows north from the launch at Camp Baker near White Sulphur Springs, etching through nearly 60 miles of limestone canyons in one of the most spectacular floats in the state.
The Smith’s float season is short, lasting from roughly mid-April to mid-July, and dependent on snowpack and timing of runoff. Two years ago the season ended early as runoff quickly dissipated. Last year, runoff was slow to come and the early part of the season was essentially lost.
This year, 902 residents and 568 nonresidents drew 1,470 float permits for launch dates between April 1 and Oct. 31. Every date between April 1 and Aug. 21 had all available permits allocated, according to Montana State Parks which manages the float program.
The board also voted to require human waste to be packed out and disposed of at the take-out at Eden Bridge near Ulm. Officials said recently that rule will not go into effect until next year, and that pit toilets at the boat camps will be offered for this season.
Montana State Parks has also considered making changes to the lottery system due to the increasing interest. Potential changes could include a bonus point system where an unsuccessful applicant would receive additional chances in subsequent years, or providing a preference for residents over nonresidents. Another idea could offer permits for smaller and larger parties — the current permits allow up to 15 floaters per permit.
Smith River State Park manager Colin Maas said the plan remains to bring proposals on the lottery to the board, although officials have not decided on a timeline to do so, saying it will be a “complex” issue to tackle.
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