Jefferson River group produces builder’s guide for streamside construction

A local group focused on recreating and preserving the Jefferson River has developed two brochures with the help of a small grant.

The Jefferson River Canoe Trail is a chapter of the Lewis and Clark Heritage Foundation and was formed by Thomas Elpel of Pony.

The canoe trail recently was awarded a $750 grant from the heritage foundation to print 1,000 copies each of two brochures – one explaining the canoe trail and another a builders guide for building along the Jefferson River.

The goal behind both brochures is really to educate people about the fact the Jefferson River is a natural and historical treasure, Elpel said.

“It’s kind of like having a long, skinny national park in our backyard,” he said. “It’s really up to us, the people that live here, to determine the future of the Jefferson and all of our wonderful rivers in southwest Montana.”

Besides the brochures, the group also has produced a set of maps of the Jefferson River, which it offers for a suggested donation.

As the name implies, the Jefferson River Canoe Trail outlines access and recreation along the Jefferson River, Elpel said.

Currently, the camping along the river is limited to a few spots of Bureau of Land Management land and below the normal high water mark, he said. But the group is hoping to work with landowners to develop other primitive camping spots, he said.

The brochures will hopefully help spread the word about the group and its work, Elpel said.

“This is a way of reaching out and letting people know about our group and what we do,” he said.

The builder’s guide is also a tool that is geared to help inform property owners about the benefits of building back from the river and protecting the stream banks, Elpel said.

“I think one of the things that happen is people don’t really think through the particulars of what is involved with living by the river,” he said.
Some of the downsides of building on the river include lower temperatures (particularly in the winter), mosquitoes and the need to stabilize riverbanks to protect structures, Elpel said.

“The Jefferson River is being loved to death,” reads the brochure. “It’s easy to imagine that one house won’t really change anything, but it doesn’t work that way.
There is always one more house. The Jefferson is at risk of becoming a rip-rapped channel lined with houses.”

Though the brochure was developed independent of the public discussion of streamside setbacks on the Madison River, it’s not hard to see the parallels.
Last month the Madison County Commissioners decided not to implement a streamside setback regulation on the Madison River. Instead the commissioners are looking to develop building guidelines for along the Madison River. However, how these guidelines will be developed and what they will recommend is still unknown.

Madison County is currently going through a process to revise their growth policy. It’s possible streamside setback guidelines could be part of the revision process, said Charity Fechter, planning director for Madison County.

“That is part of what we’re looking at as part of the growth policy update as to how to deal with the guidelines,” Fechter said.

The planning board is currently analyzing the feedback they received from a survey they recently put out concerning the growth policy. The Jefferson River Canoe Trail submitted their builder’s guide as part of their comments, Elpel said.

For more information about the canoe trail, go on to their website at

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