By Tim Leeds
The Clack Museum Board on Monday will preview a video made from slides taken decades ago when preservation of the Upper Missouri Breaks was a matter of controversy, just as it is now.
Gov. Judy Martz recently appointed a task force to examine President Clinton's designation of the Upper Missouri Breaks as a national historic monument, to see if the boundaries and regulations of the monument are appropriate. That examination is reminiscent of the early 1960s, when the Army Corps of Engineers was examining building dams on the Missouri that would have flooded the Breaks from High Cow Island to Fort Benton.
Emil DonTigny, who made the slides with his son, Richard DonTigny, was an outspoken opponent of the dams, and is credited as one of the forces that prevented their construction and helped lead to the designation of the area as a wild and scenic river.
The video will be shown at 5 p.m. in the meeting room of the Havre-Hill County Public Library. Harrison Lane, who taught history at Northern Montana College, wrote the script for the original slide show, and Bill Lisenby, English teacher at Northern, is the narrator on a recorded soundtrack. Cliff Whittemore put the slide show together.
Elinor Clack, who worked with Arlie Lane to get the slide show converted into a video, said the museum board hopes to see if the public has enough interest in the video to help fund a better restoration. She said a full restoration of the slide show to video would cost much more money than the museum has right now, and with public support it might be restored more completely.
The museum board is considering trying to market the video to raise money for the museum.
The slides used for the slide show and the video were taken on some of the more than 50 trips Emil DonTigny took down the river between 1957 and 1969.
Richard DonTigny said his father's love of the area became even more intense after a boat trip down the Breaks in 1957, a trip which had some interesting twists.
The boat Emil and his brother-in-law, Cy Morrison, were floating the Breaks in ran out of gas on the upper part of Fort Peck Lake after 10 days on the river, and the two spent most of two days hiking, then hitching a ride into the town of Fort Peck. The boat they hired to pick up their own craft broke down, and Morrison and DonTigny had to tow it back, but they successfully made it home.
Richard said his father had an intense interest in the history, geology and flora and fauna of the area, especially in the region between the Virgelle ferry and the PN ferry. Emil began taking experts with him on trips down the river, including local specialists like Harrison Lane and Lou Hagener, a professor of biology and botany at Northern.
Other people he took along so he could learn about the river were geologist Bill Pecora of the U.S. Geological Survey and Carter Hearne, who gave a presentation in the Heritage Center last week. He also took many friends and members of his family down the river.
There were many others he also took down the Missouri. Representatives from the National Park Service, the National Geographic Society, the Montana Wilderness Society, movie makers, television news anchor Chet Huntley and authors all had Emil DonTigny guide them down the Breaks.
Emil DonTigny became recognized as an authority on that section of the Upper Missouri Breaks. Richard wrote an article for the Missoulian, published July 21, 1963, that described a trip he took with his father. The introduction to the article notes Emil's lifelong hobby of studying the Breaks, and how the article was timely because of a plan to build a dam and flood the area.
Clack said she floated the Missouri with her husband, Louis, and Emil several times. She said she also traveled to many meetings with Emil at the time the dams were being considered to testify that the area should be left as it was.
Richard said his father was instrumental in preventing the flooding of the region. Whenever the issue was raised again, he added, Emil would get in touch with his numerous contacts in state and federal government and work to prevent the dams.
Emil died in 1969 at the age of 67. Although he never lived to see it, his work also helped lead to the designation of the area as a wild and scenic river in 1976, Richard said.
The current controversy over the Breaks is unlike that caused by the government's development plans that Emil DonTigny opposed. President Clinton designated 377,000 acres of federal land as the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
The boundaries Clinton designated includes about 80,000 acres of private land and 40,000 acres of state land. If the federal government acquires title to any of that land, it becomes part of the monument.
Some people who live along or inside the boundary of the monument have said they oppose the monument as it is designated.
The City Council of Winifred passed a resolution Aug. 7 calling for the removal of all private property from within the boundaries if the owner desires, and continuation of previous uses of the area, such as grazing, natural gas development and local access.
Supporters of the monument and BLM representatives say that being included inside the boundary has no effect on state or private land. That land is not part of the monument until the federal government acquires title, they say.