PRESS RELEASE: Events celebrate historic Soda Butte Creek cleanup

Once-polluted stream is first to be removed from Montana’s Impaired Waters List


Attendees of the Soda Butte Creek cleanup celebration congregate at the McLaren Reclamation Site.

SILVER GATE, Mont. – Soda Butte Creek is the first stream polluted by mining ever to be removed from Montana’s Impaired Waters List. A celebration of this achievement takes place today with events in Cooke City and Silver Gate.

For years, mining pollution contaminated Soda Butte Creek with heavy metals including iron, copper, and zinc. In addition to mining runoff, a tailings impoundment from the former McLaren ore mill sat on top of the creek’s natural drainage area. Eventually, pollution from copper, gold, and silver mining became so concentrated that areas of the waterway were visually altered with a vivid orange discoloration from oxidized iron.

Grassroots efforts led by Beartooth Alliance, the Cooke City-area affiliate of Northern Plains Resource Council, were instrumental in pushing a network of local, state, and federal government agencies to begin repairing the polluted stream.

“The cleanup of Soda Butte Creek simply would not have happened without community members sounding the alarm of environmental damage,” said Marcia Woolman, past president of Beartooth Alliance. “Thanks to a great deal of hard grassroots work from local residents, we were able to forge a productive, collaborative relationship with government officials.”

Agencies involved with the long process to rehabilitate the polluted stream include the Montana Department of Environmental Quality; U.S. Forest Service; National Park Service; and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The late Tom Henderson, who led the Abandoned Mines cleanup effort for the DEQ, will be honored at today’s events for his life of dedicated public service.

Woolman added that “Soda Butte Creek’s cleanup is a testament to what can be accomplished when everyday people work together with willing government agencies to protect the irreplaceable, world-class natural resources so vital to Montana’s communities and economy.”

Events today will include a 3 p.m. tour of the McLaren Reclamation Site in Cooke City and a 5 p.m. Beartooth Alliance celebration at the Range Rider Lodge in Silver Gate.