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At first glance, the Canyon Ferry Reservoir (about 28 miles from Helena Montana, on a section of the Missouri River) looks just like any other dam and lake area. But it’s not. The Reservoir is actually connected to the Hauser Dam reservoir 15.5 miles downstream. Additionally, it’s not just the lake, and all activities associated with the lake, that creates an appeal to come to the area; it’s the small fly shops and the history surrounding the lake, as well as how residents in the area have brought it to local news attention.
One appeal the lake has as of right now is there is no cell phone service. So if you are one of them fishing guys who wants to fish without your wife calling you a ton, then this is the place for you. However, that might change here soon as Verizon Wireless is currently awaiting the conclusion of petitions by area residents regarding the location of a proposed cell phone tower to give the lake service to make search and rescue services and other emergency services more readily accessible and provide quicker response.
Another appeal is the history of the lake. The lake actually sits on what was the ghost town of Canton, Montana which sat just north of Townsend, Montana. In December of 1944, The Flood Control Act of 1944 was passed and construction began in March 1949 on a modern dam to replace the outdated one 1.5 miles upstream. The new dam caused the abandoned city of Canton, the Old Canyon ferry bridge, and the old powerhouse (it was stripped of almost all materials first) & and remnants of the old Canyon Ferry Dam to be submerged. The only part of the old town that remains is a section of the town’s cemetery, which has been named Cemetery Island. The old buildings and many structures were never demolished, leaving the town underwater. During the summer, many residents will get brave and dive down to the remnants of the old town and surrounding structures. And sometimes when the water level gets too low, rubble of the town can be seen just under the water, or sometimes above the water.
But the major attraction of the lake is, well, the lake. There are numerous campsites, boat launches, cliffs, and low trees (compared to the water level) to make it fisher, boater, cliff diver, and swimmer friendly. Also included are numerous picnic areas to make it family day friendly. Also near the lake is the El Dorado Bar, where sapphires have been mined since 1865, which was featured in a 1972 Helena Chamber of Commerce Promotional film “Helena- City of Gold”. a clip of the film can be found here. The El Dorado Bar is located to the Northwest of the dam. On the South side of the lake and west of the dam, you can find the Spokane Bar Sapphire Mine and Gold Fever Rock Shop, where you can also find sapphires by either paying to go out and dig your own bucket, or by buying a bag of pre-dug dirt to screen through yourself to find a sapphire. This has been ranked #11 of 19 attractions near Helena on tripadvisor.com. (To view the reviews, click here). Also included as attractions/ammenties are: House boats, boat tours, cabins, a grocery store,
So in addition to the fishing, boating and swimming and all related activities of any lake, Canyon Ferry has many historical appeals but is an all around recreation area along the Missouri River fit for almost everyone.
Flood Control Act of 1944- United States Bureau of Reclamation http://www.usbr.gov/power/legislation/fldcntra.pdf;
Cell Phone Tower- KXLH “Cell tower gets green light at Canyon Ferry” 25 May 2012, accessed: 06 Jun 2012
Dam Construction- United States Bureau of Reclamation