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NorthWestern Energy and the Missouri-Madison River Fund Trust announce funding for 2024 public recreation improvement projects

Date: Feb 16, 2024

TYPE: News

Butte, Mont. – Feb. 16, 2024 – NorthWestern Energy and the Missouri-Madison River Fund are once again helping recreation managers improve and maintain visitor services to ensure recreationists that generate roughly one million group visits to public recreation sites along the popular Madison and Missouri rivers in Montana have a positive experience and protect Montana’s precious resources while recreating. Nine public recreation improvement projects on the Missouri and Madison rivers have been awarded grant and matching funds by the River Fund Trust and NorthWestern Energy for implementation in 2024.

A combination of $164,446 from NorthWestern Energy and $369,703 from the Missouri-Madison River Fund will be combined with $224,780 from agency and project partners to complete 9 projects totaling more than $750,000. NorthWestern Energy will supplement these funds by contributing an additional $554,309 to state, federal, and local agencies for operation and maintenance efforts at many existing recreation sites in 2024. These efforts were included in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Project 2188 hydroelectric license in the 1990s to ensure that public recreation sites, facilities, and opportunities remain available long into the future.

Great Falls region

  • Deteriorated handrailing will be replaced at the overlook area on Ryan Island.
  • 30 interpretive signs along the River’s Edge Trail near the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and Giant Springs State Park will be replaced.
  • Planning and design for a new bike skills park in Great Falls will be conducted.
  • Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will upgrade site facilities to re-open White Bear Island Fishing Access Site south of Great Falls.
  • The water system and electrical hookups will be upgraded to better serve visitors to the Canoe Campground in Fort Benton.

Hauser Lake

At Hauser Lake the Bureau of Land Management will utilize River Fund and NorthWestern Energy matching funds to upgrade the water delivery system at Devil’s Elbow Campground and Clark’s Bay Day Use Site. This project dove-tails with drilling of new drinking water wells, which was supported by the grant program in 2023.

Ennis region

  • The US Forest Service will perform site upgrades to the West Fork Campground on the Madison River.
  • The Bureau of Land Management will replace the floating dock at Kobayashi Beach on Ennis Lake with a structure that will be better equipped to withstand forces of waves and wind that persist at the site.

Three Forks region

  • Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks will add bear-proof garbage and food storage boxes in the camping and use areas of Missouri Headwaters State Park.

“NorthWestern Energy and its employees are proud to continue to support the Missouri-Madison River Fund Trust,” said NorthWestern Energy Hydropower License Compliance Manager Andy Welch. “Success of the grant program depends not only on NorthWestern Energy, but also on the dedication by a board of directors that represents entities and agencies that actively manage public recreation in the Missouri-Madison Corridor. We are grateful for the foresight and commitment to collaboration that allowed for such a unique public-private partnership to be formed in the 1990s, and the continued commitment that has allowed the program to flourish over the past number of years.”

In many ways, projects funded through the River Fund grant and NorthWestern Energy matching funds program have shifted from nice-to-do amenity upgrades to need-to-do basic service upgrades in recent years. Fewer requests are submitted for projects that add convenience items such as benches, tables, and sun covers, and more project applications are received that replace basic visitor services such as water delivery systems that have deteriorated and begun to fail, vault toilets that have reached the end of their useful life, and boat ramps that have slowly become deteriorated by winter ice and spring runoff. Taking care of recreation sites in the Missouri-Madison Corridor, especially those constructed when the Missouri-Madison Hydroelectric Project was relicensed in 1990s, is the purpose for which the River Fund was established, and it’s working exactly as it was intended.

Thirteen of the 25 projects funded through the River Fund Trust and NorthWestern Energy matching funds from 2021 through 2023 have been completed. Projects currently underway will add a courtesy dock at Rainbow Point Campground on Hebgen Lake, expand camping and shoreline access at Meadow Lake Fishing Access Site on Ennis Lake, and drill a new drinking water well at the Trapper Springs recreation site on the Lower Madison River. At Holter Lake, the U.S. Forest Service is installing new sign kiosks at three sites and reconstructing deteriorated portions of the Beaver Creek access trail that links Hauser Dam to the Beaver Creek day-use site downstream. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will install solar arrays to help power administrative buildings at campgrounds on Hauser and Holter lakes, while the Bureau of Reclamation will upgrade ADA-access trails at Riverside Campground at the upper end of Hauser Lake.

In the Great Falls area, the second phase of the River’s Edge Trail North Bank stabilization project is in the design phase, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks is planning to repave the Rainbow Dam and Lewis & Clark Overlook sites, additional maps were printed and distributed for the River’s Edge Trail system, which will also have an upgraded drinking water station near Black Eagle Dam soon. The Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks is working with Lewis & Clark County and Burlington Northern Railway to expand parking for the fishing access site in the town of Craig.

Projects funded in 2024 raise the tally to 169 projects funded by the River Fund Trust since the first year of awards in 2007. Project awards by the fund have totaled about $350,000 per year and $6.4 million to date while matching funds from NorthWestern Energy have contributed another $1.8 million. River Fund grants and NorthWestern Energy matching funds have helped leverage public agency and partner funding to provide nearly $13 million in public recreation improvements in the Missouri-Madison Corridor since 2007.

The Missouri-Madison River Fund trust for public recreation, currently valued at $6.9 million, was created through the collaborative efforts of NorthWestern Energy; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks; U.S. Forest Service; U.S. Bureau of Land Management; Madison, Gallatin, Broadwater, Lewis & Clark, Cascade and Chouteau counties; and numerous other public and private partners.  This year marks the 18th year in which earnings from the trust have been awarded to recreation improvement projects through the River Fund grant program.

Created as a public-private partnership to meet public recreation needs along the Madison and Missouri rivers, the River Fund supports ongoing efforts to protect and enhance recreation from Hebgen Reservoir downstream to Fort Benton, excluding the Broadwater and Canyon Ferry hydroelectric plants and the river segment between them. River Fund awards for qualifying projects will continue on an annual basis, with grants awarded each December. 

A list of projects can be found in the River Fund segment of the Clean Energy - Hydropower section of NorthWestern Energy’s website at, as well as information about NorthWestern Energy and its hydroelectric facilities.

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NorthWestern Energy, provides essential energy infrastructure and valuable services that enrich lives and empower communities while serving as long-term partners to our customers and communities. We work to deliver safe, reliable, and innovative energy solutions that create value for customers, communities, employees, and investors. We do this by providing low-cost and reliable service performed by highly-adaptable and skilled employees. We provide electricity and / or natural gas to approximately 775,300 customers in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Yellowstone National Park. Our operations in Montana and Yellowstone National Park are conducted through our subsidiary, NW Corp, and our operations in South Dakota and Nebraska are conducted through our subsidiary, NWE Public Service. We have provided service in South Dakota and Nebraska since 1923 and in Montana since 2002.

Media Contacts:

Jo Dee Black