Upper Blackfoot Landscape
The Upper Blackfoot Geographic Area spans Lewis & Clark and Powell counties. The towns of Lincoln and Helmville are the nearest communities. The majority of the area is west of the continental divide. The Rocky Mountain Range Geographic Area and Flathead National Forest are directly north and the Divide Geographic Area is to the south. To the east, mountains become grassy foothills with isolated buttes. Montana Highway 200 cuts east-west through the center of the geographic area, crossing over Rogers Pass to follow the Blackfoot River. Missoula is approximately 70 miles to the west and the city of Great Falls is approximately 70 miles to the east. The northwest corner is a part of the Scapegoat Wilderness and the greater Bob Marshall Wilderness complex. This geographic area is a critical component of the Southern Crown of the Continent ecosystem.
The landform west of the divide is characterized by mostly rolling hills and mountains that are underlain by various types of rock. High peaks are topped with volcanic rocks with areas of exposed rock. The effects of glaciation are present. The landforms east of the divide are characterized by rounded mountains that are underlain by volcanic rocks and sedimentary rocks that have changed through geologic processes. Summits lack much exposed rock and the effects of glaciation are absent. Another characterizing landform that helps define the geographic area is the mountain pass. There are a few notable passes, some allowing for easy automotive travel over the continental divide: Roger, Stemple, Windy, and Flesher.
Most of the area is heavily forested with conifers. Aspen stands are intermittent. Grasslands are frequent, especially along valley bottoms and sun exposed aspects. Wetland complexes, fens, and other groundwater dependent ecosystems harbor rich assemblages of plants such as Indian Meadows. Fire is a major driver in the structure and composition of plant communities. The Blackfoot River finds its headwaters here in the geographic area. The highly valued recreational and scenic river clips other portions of the geographic area. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail transects the geographic area, north to south.
This geographic area has many important headwater streams emanating from the high country’s snow melt. All streams west of the divide feed into the Blackfoot River on its way to the Clark Fork of the Columbia River. Major drainages east of the divide flow towards the Missouri RiverMany natural lakes occur throughout.
Evidence of prehistoric settlement is present on the landscape but inconspicuous. Euro-American settlement is more apparent but many elements are also fading to time. Portions of the Lewis & Clark Trail traverse the Blackfoot River and Alice Creek. The trail passes over the Continental Divide at Lewis and Clark Pass. Remnant buildings of former communities are in various states of disrepair if not gone completely, such as the post offices and dwellings of McClellan Gulch, Rochester, Gould, Stemple Pass, and Mike Horse to name a few. Relics of historic mining infrastructure and tools are frequent. Two historic buildings, Webb Lake Guard Station and Granite Butte Lookout, stand testament to the Forest Service’s administration. Additionally, there is visible evidence of past timber harvesting visible across the GA in many locations.
Recreation use in the Upper Blackfoot GA varies by location. The northern area includes the south part of the Scapegoat Wilderness, and recreation activities such as backpacking, horseback riding, and outfitter guiding take place across these landscape. There are a few developed recreation sites within the geographic area including a couple of campgrounds and a few larger developed trailheads. Additionally, there is dispersed recreation use with both motorized and nonmotorized trails and dispersed camping in many of the stream bottoms. Snowmobiling and dog sledding are the primary winter activities.