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Dangerous stretch of Bitterroot River opens, warnings posted

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
Published On: Aug 06 2014 08:02:29 AM MDT
Updated On: Jul 07 2014 11:34:00 PM MDT
CORVALLIS -

After three months of closure, a 5-mile stretch of the Bitterroot River is now open to floaters. The green light is met with serious warnings to be careful.

The section from Woodside, west of Corvallis, to Tucker Crossing, south of Victor, is open.

River users must portage around a dangerous diversion dam that forced the temporary closure in the first place. The dam has been the site of several accidents, including a fatality in 2013.

At the diversion dam, on the Bitterroot River near Corvallis, the water is white, and the drop-off dramatic. Logs and debris are also caught there. Signs are posted along the way to get out and walk your boat around the dam.

NBC Montana did not see anybody portaging the dam, nor floating nearby. But we met Brent Cotton at Bell Crossing, miles north of the dam.

"That's a section I don't want to mess with it," said the Stevensvile man, "because of that dam."

Cotton and his party took their raft out for the first time this season.

Cotton has been over the diversion dam before with a guide, and he knows how dangerous it is.

"I'm fairly experienced," he said, "but I wouldn't consider myself an expert as far as rowing, and so I'm very leery of going over any kind of obstacles."

Cotton and his group launched from Bell Crossing for a fishing expedition.

Brent and his family enjoy the river a lot. But the kids are in life jackets when they're near the water, and no kids are going on the family raft until the river is scouted out.

"They want to look at the river first," said Jen Cotton, "and make sure it's safe for everybody."

Fish, Wildlife and Parks is working with stakeholders to figure out ways to fix the dam so it's safer for boat passage.

The Bitterroot River is considered one of the most dangerous rivers in Montana. The river collects a great deal of debris, much of which is under water so floaters can't see it.