A boat ramp at the Afterbay river launch is a popular place to launch on the Bighorn River, inside the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area outside of Fort Smith, Montana. On a busy morning, you …
A boat ramp at the Afterbay river launch is a popular place to launch on the Bighorn River, inside the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area outside of Fort Smith, Montana. On a busy morning, you can look downriver and often see 10 or more drift boats moving along the river. However, the end of the ramp has received significant damage from both water erosion and breakage. There’s a jagged ramp edge and a significant drop off to the river, Bighorn Canyon officials say; during low river levels, launching can be challenging.
That’s why repairs are planned in October as part of a collaboration between Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service and the Bighorn River Alliance.
The project will affect launching from Oct. 7-19. During that time a temporary, primitive graveled launch area north of the ramp will be available as a single lane launch. Parking in this area will be limited to single vehicle parking. Vehicles with trailers will be asked to use the overflow parking. Anglers using the area should expect delays and traffic control and may want to consider using the Three Mile access as an alternative.
The bureau may also lower river levels for a short time on the first day of work, Oct. 7, to allow the NPS time to place a coffer dam around the work site, to keep out water. It will then maintain river levels at the approximate winter release rate, projected to be between 2,200 and 3,200 cfs.
The goal is to maximize habitat protection as much as possible while allowing the project to move forward to improve access.
“The river levels allow this year’s young trout to stay in side channel habitat as long as possible,” said Mike Ruggles, a fisheries biologist with Montana Fish Wildlife and Park. His agency and the Park Service are sharing costs for the project, while the Bighorn River Alliance will be helping with outreach and traffic control.
“The concerns over the condition of the ramp were brought to me during a public meeting we hosted in Hardin in June. I am glad that we are able to work with our partners to make the needed repairs,” said Bighorn Canyon Superintendent Mike Tranel.
Anne Marie Emery, executive director of the Bighorn River Alliance, said her group is “excited to see this work through to completion and happy to see the collaboration to get it done.
“It has been on our list for a while,” she said.