Old mining cleanup at headwaters of Soda Butte Creek almost done

Great progress on the mining mess of the New World Mining district above Cooke City-

Although the article below writes of the headwaters of the Yellowstone. It is actually Soda Butte Creek and the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone.

They have been poking around and doing some mining here since the 19th Century. In the 1990s, there was a serious attempt at a giant gold mine right there on Henderson Mountain. One of the crowning achievements of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition was killing this mine and securing money for a general cleanup of the area.

This mining area his leaked acidic, heavy metals into Yellowstone Park for over a hundred years.

I’m very pleased to read this.

Cleanup at Yellowstone headwaters hailed. By Brett French. Billings Gazette.


  1. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    Yellowstones’ borders should extend to the ridge line on both Soda Butte Creek and on Slough Creek. Having private holdings upsteam on both of these drainages leaves the park vulnerable to pollution, poaching and other abuses.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Larry Thorngren,

    I would go for that, but I want to add that great progress was made in the late 1970s when the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness was created to the north and northeast of the Park.

    For years there had been a proposal to build a highway down Slough Creek, creating yet another entrance road to Yellowstone. This one would be from Big Timber, MT.

    All of Slough Creek north of Yellowstone Park was put inside the Absaroka portion of the Absaroka/Beartooth Wilderness, forestalling forever the building of a road.

    Of course, this does not prevent poaching or hunting north of the Park. I am not opposed to hunting, but Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks needs to do a better job to make sure the Park is not impacted. Likewise Wyoming Game and Fish needs to do a much, much better job regulating the outfitted hunting along the SE boundary of the Park, way to the south, in the Thorofare area.

  3. Elk275 Avatar

    I think that in the 1930’s Yellowstone Park expanded to the Northwest which created the uneven northwest border. There was an uproar and congress passed a law requiring congressional approval to expand the park boundries.

    FYI. Some of the mineral rights in the expanded area are owned by the railroad.

  4. Jon Way Avatar

    Following Larry’s comments,
    altho likely not to happen for political reasons, it would be great to expand N the N entrance area as part of the park as well, esp since elk and of course bison migrate out every winter around and N of Gardiner. Expanding the park borders (buying private land, making some national forest lands into parks) would make it a more naturally functioning park which should be the ultimate goal.
    Politics aside, this would improve the park for the better…

  5. Virginia Avatar

    Two ranting comments to this story: (1) if you have been up in the area of the proposed mine, you know that this place will never look the same, no matter what they say or do. It is tragic the way this was handled – these foreign mining companies should be abolished from even setting foot on our lands; (2) Ralph – you commented on the outfitters hunting in the Thorofare area – you obviously have been through the Thorofare and seen where the outfitters tie their horses to the trees along the trail. The ground is so worn away around the trees that it is a wonder they haven’t died from root exposure. Why does the park service/forest service allow this blatant destruction of the Thorofare area?

  6. Richie, Giallanzo,NJ Avatar
    Richie, Giallanzo,NJ

    It seems politics as usual,foreign countries taking our natural resources and in turn we drilling for oil in foreign countries.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Ask Bob Jackson. He was the Thorofare Ranger — the ranger just on the Park side of boundary.

  8. Virginia Avatar

    Ralph – thank you for responding to my complaint about the destruction of the Thorofare. I would love to hear Bob’s analysis of what has been done to this historic area. Has anyone else been up to the New World Mine reclamation to see what has been going on? We were up there recently (summer) and I was shocked at how it looks – just another mine reclamation. I am happy that GYC thinks it is a good thing, but these foreign mining companies need to be stopped before they can even begin to do what they did up there. I am so happy the Canadian government saw the light and Glacier and the Flathead can remain beautiful.

  9. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    The GYC led a decade long campaign to stop the planned new mining above Cooke City, Montana. That ended about 12 years ago with success. Since then the EPA has been cleaning up old messes in the area.

    About the Thorofare, I emailed Bob Jackson, and asked if he wanted to comment. Robert Hoskins and a number of other people also know about outfitting problems in the Thorofare.

  10. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Oh, where do I start?? and more so yet, where do I end???

    The Park has pretty well addressed tying horses to trees. If it is green it pretty much is illegal to tie to. And there is to be no “damage” on the ground around any dead tree either. Plus any manure left around a tied tree is to be kicked and scattered.

    That is the law, but as with most outfitters in Thorofare country (park side) they always try to get away with things. Plus they are lazy. I would ride a larger circle around their camps to find tracks of stock led away to deep timber…where they were tied for the day..or night.

    These “secret” places, they treated like pig sties. No clean up or any attempt to scatter manure etc. Some looked like bomb craters. I’d track to these places and then wait for the outfitter and wrangler to arrive back in camp that evening. Then I’d haul their skinny asses over and give them hell and a ticket. It made little difference if it meant night travel afterwards for me…the law and premeditated abuse of this law was wrong!!!

    Word would get around and as long as I patrolled most abuse in my area became minimal. I’d ride to these outfitters other areas outside my district once in awhile and find the same abuse happening there, however.. I’d tell the back country rangers in these areas…. and their fat assed bossess….. but most were either too intimidated by these outfitters, or wanted to be liked, to do any follow up.

    I guess it was ” out of sight and out of mind”.

    On the Bridger-Teton side of things it was a moonscape all around Bridger Lake and any place the outfitters staked out a summer or fall home. The Triangle X (yes, brother John was head of F&W under the first George Bush. Turners flew a plane over the Thorofare and dropped steaks to the dude camp below… a big no-no) had a summer camp on the Falcon Ck. side of the valley. It was called Mosquito Camp (88 fires burnt it out) because of all the low lying ground and lots of willows. The mucked up ground was large enough it could be seen all the way across the valley 2 miles away.

    Any summer camping in the wilderness was to be limited to 14 days but Turners set up camp for all summer. They built and left up corrals (illegal as hell) and tents. Same scenario for the other BT Wilderness outfitters.

    Fall camps were even worse. Turners Triangle X Phelps Pass camp was in a very damp and shaded area. I’ll never forget the wrangler stripping off saddles from horses at the hitching racks and mucking through 40 ft. of calf high mud and manure to get to the tack tent….dragging straps and cinches all the way.

    It all is very base and decaying in atmospere in horse country at Bridger-Teton. One is in slime city and I don’t see any outfitters or their help seeming to care. And every bit of it is illegal. The wilderness guards who did care didn’t get support from Blackrock or Jackson.

    The outfitters actually wanted trees to die around their camps. This meant firewood close at hand for dudes tents.

    The camp at the SE corner was very much into tying horses to these trees to kill them off. Another big camp (100 horses and mules), the Hawks Rest outfitter camp was denuded of trees (behind camp) for a quarter mile. All one saw were stumps.

    The private camps around Bridger Lake one could ride for a mile without seeing green. It was one camp continuing into another…all bare of everything.

    Ya, quite the wilderness horse country ethics those cowboys are known for. And it is the Forest Services fault for letting it happen.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan