Bitterroot Oasis Keeps the Locals Coming Back

Summer means exploring our state, and at Prairie Populist we’re joining the thousands of Montanans visiting the amazing lands, lakes, and historical sites that make up Montana’s state parks. We hope you’ll check back all summer and join us as we explore what these parks mean for the people of our state and how they help make Montana a place unlike any other.


Saturday, May 26, 2018. Folks from the Bitterroot Valley are slowly filling in local campgrounds and preparing for a quiet weekend. Their jobs and problems have drifted away, as this is a time reserved for family.

On this Memorial Day weekend, the Spriggs family scored the site closest to the shoreline. Their camp consisted of a few strategically placed sheets of canvas, and a slide in truck camper secured to a flatbed trailer. They camped not only in style, but in premium comfort. The kind of comfort that only an experienced woodsman can provide.

Painted Rocks State Park, Montana, Public Lands, Hunting, Camping, Fishing, Family, Outdoors

Scott Cameron Sr.

Scott Cameron Sr. is the master behind the canvas setup. He’s a retired logger whose bones are in much need of some rest, if only his eager and attentive mind would allow it.

“I come here for the serenity,” Scott said. “This is a hometown campground.”

Scott’s attention this weekend wasn’t on catching fish or soaking in long moments of solitude on the shoreline, but on his granddaughter Keilah Spriggs. At age 2 this little one is full of curiosity. The brightest smile hits her face when she sees grandpa with a fish, or dad on the four-wheeler.

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Hope (Scott’s daughter), and Darel Spriggs (Hope’s husband) have been coming to this campground since they were very young.

Painted Rocks used to have a lot fewer restrictions prior to its more recent developments. Darel reminisced on memories of dirt bike engines, and parties lasting far into the evening.

“I was raised coming here,” he said. “It has a homey feeling to me. It has a place in my heart.”

Painted Rocks State Park, Montana, Public Lands, Hunting, Camping, Fishing, Family, Outdoors

Darel and Keilah Spriggs.

The locals of the Bitterroot Valley have their special places. Places that folks have been visiting with their family since they were just beginning to walk. For the Spriggs family, like many others, Painted Rocks State Park is their home away from home. It’s a landscape that allows them relaxation and recreation on a personal level.

Painted Rocks State Park, Montana, Public Lands, Hunting, Camping, Fishing, Family, OutdoorsPainted Rocks is tucked into the southwestern most reaches of Montana, in the Bitterroot National Forest. It is a water-based State Park. The reservoir attracts boaters and anglers of all types. A natural beauty surrounds this landscape. Large stands of Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir cover the hillsides. Tall granite and rhyolite cliffstheir edges accented with bright yellow and green lichens, break the expansive views of pine forest.

This is a family park. A quick and peaceful weekend getaway for the folks living in the Bitterroot Valley. The park offers 25 campsites with plenty of space to park an RV or trailer. It even features a boat ramp with a short dock, a place many children first learn the art of fishing by hook and worm. Just a short distance from the park one can find hiking trails and roads for 4×4 vehicles. This landscape has a little something for everyone.

Painted Rocks State Park, Montana, Public Lands, Hunting, Camping, Fishing, Family, Outdoors

This campground has changed from a backwoods party spot to a family friendly campground, although it still has a lot of wild left in it. Hope and Darel look forward to an event every fall called the “Mud Bogs”. In the Fall, the reservoir almost completely dries out, allowing ample room for large trucks and other mud specific vehicles to come out and play.

Painted Rocks State Park, Montana, Public Lands, Hunting, Camping, Fishing, Family, Outdoors

Loren Flynn, Park Manager of Painted Rocks State Park

“The amount of usage this landscape experiences annually hasn’t changed over the years, but the types of recreation have,” said the park’s manager,  Loren Flynn. Loren, who also manages Fort Owen and is the executive director at Travelers Rest, is responsible for a very wide range of duties. He is both custodian and interpretive guide, fundraiser and groundskeeper.

“The other day I had to choose between making a half-million dollar presentation for a land-transfer at Travelers Rest, and going to clean the bathrooms at Fort Owen,” he said. “I went to clean the bathrooms at Fort Owen.”

Loren’s passion for the state parks in his jurisdictions makes him want to do more for their well being, but that isn’t always possible. Painted Rocks is a two-hour drive from Travelers Rest and Fort Owen, which are close to Missoula. His operating regional budget only allows for one trip a week to check up on the park, a trip that is often spent cleaning the bathrooms.

The park will get a part time camp host in June, but this position has been difficult to fill considering the remote location of the area. Unlike the Forest Service, which seeks out campground hosts on a volunteer basis, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks actually has wiggled a small stipend and an hourly rate for their camp hosts.

“We don’t pay a lot, but we pay,” said Loren.

A part time host might just give Loren the help he need so that he can focus on larger managerial tasks for the three parks he manages.

Painted Rocks State Park is full of beauty and family fun. It’s a place where solitude and recreation are right at the fingertips for those who call the Bitterroot Valley home.

-Photographs and writing by August Schield

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