Madison River gorges in Ennis

With temperatures below zero throughout the past week, the Madison River’s water slowed and eventually froze at the surface creating an ice jam early on Friday, Dec. 6.

Christie Trapp, executive director of the Madison Valley Medical Center Foundation (MVMCF), said the river gorge was captured on camera at 3:30 a.m. Trapp and the MVMCF created an online fundraising raffle called “ICE JAM” where time slots were sold to predict the date and time, within one hour, that the Madison River would gorge for the first time this year at the Ennis Bridge.

“The foundation wanted to create a different community fundraiser. One that everyone can participate in. And using a historical climatological event that often occurs on the Madison River seems like a perfect fit to associate the event with Ennis,” Trapp said.

Richard Lessner, Madison River Foundation (MRF) Executive Director, said the natural phenomenon is one that the MRF takes note of with great interest, especially to see how far the ice will travel. Lessner said in years past the ice jam has gone as far as Varney Bridge and McAtee Bridge.

The MVMCF used a recording device to capture and register images every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day. According to Trapp, the line of sight was on a fixed object which allowed the foundation to view time elapsed photos of when the river gorges.

There was no winner since nobody purchased the 3–3:59 a.m. time slot. This means half of the proceeds raised—$500—will contribute to the next year’s ICE JAM fundraiser proceeds. The other $500 will be the “seed” money for the 2014 fundraiser, according to Trapp. If all 3,624 time slots were to be purchased, the winner would receive nearly $36,000.

While the fundraiser is beneficial to the Ennis community and area, the effects of the ice jam have added up to big problems in past years. Low-lying areas along the river can be flooded when the ice jams up culverts the water usually flows through freely. Madison County Commissioner Jim Hart said since the highway right by the river—MT Highway 287—is a state highway the city and county are generally on watch for any problems, but leave most of the work to the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT).

“We try to assist with the traffic and some equipment,” Hart said. He added that the city and county have had to sandbag houses nearby to protect them from the water and ice. “It’s come quite close. We’ll be ready.”

Bill Stecker with MDT said he usually receives a phone call from the county. His crew then goes out to survey the area to see what needs to be done. He said they had to plow through the Ennis Bridge area a few years ago. In addition to equipment, MDT brings in signage to let people know the dangers of driving through the icy water when it comes over the top of the bridge and through the guardrail.

Drivers can go through at their own risk, Stecker said. He added that drivers may go around but sometimes the alternate routes are not only longer but could be icy and flooded too.

“The guardrails plug up and we need to free the ice and create drainage,” Stecker said. “We can’t stop the river from flowing, but we can give it an entrance and exit point.”

The Beaverhead River in Twin Bridges was slushy and moving slowly, but had not gorged yet as of Monday.

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