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Home Restore Our Working Ranch

Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch

The Clark Fork Coalition is part-owner and the managing partner of Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch, a 2,300-acre working cattle ranch in the Deer Lodge Valley of Montana.

The ranch is located east of Interstate 90 near Galen, with three miles of Clark Fork River frontage and Dry Cottonwood Creek flowing through the property.  It supports 140 head of cattle, and includes a grazing lease on adjacent U.S. Forest Service land. Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch also holds a number of senior water rights from the Clark Fork River, Dry Cottonwood Creek, and Lost Creek-- water that is used to irrigate 200 acres of crops, including alfalfa, wild hay, and oats.

Dry Cottonwood Creek will undergo a transformation as the Superfund cleanup takes place on the mainstem Clark Fork over the next decade, and the Coalition trives to connect landowners, citizens, and students throughout the Clark Fork to restoration activities on the property for the duration of the cleanup and beyond. Contact Ranch Manager Maggie Schmidt at maggie@clarkfork.org to organize a tour, restoration workday, or field trip.

Grass-fed beef: Each year, we finish a select number of our steers on grass, butcher them locally, and offer wholes, halves, and quarters for sale at local markets and venues. Visit our clarkfork.org/beef page to learn more about our grass-fed beef and place your order today.

Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch Print E-mail

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Learn more about working lands in the Upper Clark Fork at Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch

The Clark Fork Coalition purchased Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch in 2005 with the help of two conservation partners.  The ranch supports 150 head of cattle, and includes a grazing lease on adjacent U.S. Forest Service land.  Located east of Interstate 90 near Galen, the ranch contains three miles of Clark Fork River frontage, and will undergo a transformation as the Superfund cleanup takes place on the mainstem Clark Fork over the next decade.  Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch serves as a critical resource for residents, citizens, and students throughout the Clark Fork --  join us anytime for a tour, restoration workday, or field trip.

Buy our grass-fed beef:

Every year, the Coalition offers all-natural, grass-fed and finished, locally-produced and processed beef from Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch. Learn more and order your grass-fed beef today.

Download this brochure on Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch to learn more about the ranch.


Ranch Projects

Split Season Lease on Dry Cottonwood Creek: In July 2011, we put a split-season water lease into place at Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch—a pilot project we hope to scale up in future seasons.  We shut down our irrigation diversions from Dry Cottonwood Creek and the Clark Fork River during the second half of the summer, which allows 7-10 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water to return to the river, and also connects a westslope cutthroat spawning tributary back to the Clark Fork.  This split-season water lease generated income for the ranch, and will hopefully prove to be a model we can replicate elsewhere.  We’ll continue to monitor in-stream flows and ranching operations through the fall.

All-Natural Beef
: Every year, the Coalition offers all-natural, grass-fed and finished, locally-produced and processed beef from Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch.  The Coalition keeps approximately ten steers for butchering and selling, and we are hoping to increase this number in coming years.  We feel that raising, feeding, and butchering grass-fed cattle is a more preferred and sustainable agricultural alternative, as opposed to sending cattle to stockyards.  We hope to increase awareness of our efforts in coming seasons.  Visit clarkfork.org/beef for more info or to order, or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Hands on the Ranch: The Coalition recently started its "Hands on the Ranch" program, which connects local high-schoolers to stream monitoring and restoration endeavors underway on the ranch.  After rating the overall health of Dry Cottonwood Creek in the fall, students return to the ranch in the spring to plant dozens of riparian plants along riverbanks, giving the creek a fresh start.  This program is run in partnership with the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program, the Watershed Restoration Coalition, the Deer Lodge County Conservation District, and Powell County High School.  Learn more about Hands on the Ranch.

Riparian Fencing and Improved Livestock Grazing: In 2010, the Coalition worked with other neighboring landowners to install six miles of riparian fencing along Dry Cottonwood Creek.  The fencing, a high-tensile, wildlife-friendly electric fence, helps keep cattle away from grazing on the creek and destroying critical riparian habitat.  We're also using short-term electric fences to employ "short-term/high intensity" grazing, which encourages rangeland health.

Weed Management: We use sheep and local sheepherders to control noxious weeds that have popped up in neglected or over-grazed areas on the ranch.

Superfund Cleanup: Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch is preparing for the Superfund cleanup, which will clean up toxic sediments from over 43 river miles in the Upper Clark Fork basin.  In late 2010, contractors with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) began digging test pits on the Coalition's property, taking soil samples from over 500 test pits.  This sampling will give us a better grasp of the scope and limit of contamination on the ranch.  In addition to the pit testing, DEQ's contractors are conducting some important experiments on the property.  Equipment operators removed contaminated soil from a badly eroded section of Clark Fork River bank, peeled back layers of toxic sediments, and reached the healthy dirt of the river's historic floodplain.  The excavated plot was fenced and left alone, with the intent that DEQ will monitor this site and others like it over the next two years.  Ideally, this will result in willows and other native vegetation re-claiming old ground, with minimal noxious weed growth.  Whatever the results, this test (along with dozens of others) will give DEQ a better understanding of what it will take to maintain an effective and thorough Superfund cleanup.


History:

In June 2005, with the help of two conservation partners, the Coalition purchased a 2,300-acre ranch in the heart of the Deer Lodge valley’s Superfund site.  It’s one of the largest and most polluted ranches in the valley. We have invited the EPA to take the ranch through the most ambitious cleanup possible.  By augmenting the cleanup with agricultural practices that complement the EPA’s remediation work, we are offering the Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch as a learning site for exploring first-hand the challenges and opportunities that cleanup will bring to the valley’s ranchers.  Want to visit the ranch or get the latest news?  Contact Ranch Manager Maggie Schmidt at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Listen to a feature piece from Montana Public Radio on Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch via this link.