Stevensville man seeking greater horsepower limits on Bitterroot, Clark Fork

Jim Crews on his hovercraft. (Dennis Bragg/KPAX)

(KPAX) A Stevensville hovercraft enthusiast is asking Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to amend the limits on horsepower for craft navigating the Bitterroot River, as well as the Clark Fork below Missoula.

Jim Crews submitted a petition to the Fish and Wildlife Commission to consider at its Dec. 5 hearing. He said the current limit prevents hovercraft from operating on the Bitterroot between Darby and Kelly Island, and on the Clark Fork from Kelly Island to Harper’s Bridge.

“I’m trying to get the Bitterroot River and Clark Fork River rules changed to allow hovercraft to operate on the river during the motorboat months, which are October 1st through January 31st, ” Crews explained. “They have a 20-horsepower limit on motorboats, which you can’t meet with a hovercraft. Not without expending about $11, 500 to have a special one built.”

Crews said the river rules used to be limited to 15-horsepower before they were upped to 20 in the late 90s. But hovercraft, such as the ones he and his friends operate on local lakes and other rivers in Montana, can’t meet that guideline.

That’s because they use two engines, which push them over the total limit.

The rules were originally enacted to prevent noise and improve safety, especially from much faster water-jet powered craft. But Crews thinks the limits also restrict some small motor boating during late fall and winter.

“I don’t think that’s fair to families, not to allow them to get out on the river at least one day a week during the summer months to do a little family recreation. It’s just basically all fishing and hunting,” Crews said. “That’s it.”

Staff is recommending the petition be denied. But the commission will take public comment during its meeting in Helena on Dec. 5th.