Cottonwoods on the Missouri River
his view of the Missouri River in the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge, a few miles upstream from Fort Peck Reservoir in eastern Montana, illustrates Ms. Manning's point. The cottonwoods beyond the river to the right appear to be "senior citizens" of the breed, standing in orderly rows parallel to the riverbank where they took root at the edges of spring floods some sixty to eighty years ago. Between them and the water's edge today is an expanse of brush trimmed with a margin of gravely riverbank only a few yards wide. A similar contrast may be seen in the background on the opposite side of the river.
Visions and values change. The first major dam on the Missouri River was built in 1892 at Black Eagle Falls, nearly 200 miles upstream from this point. Eight more mainstem dams followed — in 1910, 1911, 1915, 1918, 1930, 1940, 1958 and 1965 — within the 210 miles between the Great Falls and Three Forks, plus one dam on the Beaverhead and one on the Marias, each one partly if not entirely for the purpose of water conservation and flood control. Meanwhile, hundreds of smaller, earthen dams were built on farms and ranches along the Missouri's tributaries to impound water for agricultural use.
Much as we wish to idealize the federally designated Wild and Scenic Missouri River, it does not entirely represent the Missouri River the Corps of Discovery saw in 1805-06. It may be scenic, but it is by no means as wild as it once was.
--Joseph Mussulman, 1999