The Swan Valley watershed encompasses 410,000 acres in Northwest Montana. The glacier-carved valley is bordered on the west by the Mission Mountains Wilderness and to the east by the Swan Range and Bob Marshall Wilderness. The Swan River runs north, emptying into Swan Lake, before entering Flathead Lake and eventually the Pacific Ocean by way of the Columbia River. Hundreds of lakes and over 4,000 wetlands, potholes and fens are scattered throughout the Valley, providing exceptional habitat for native plant and animal species, including grizzly bears, bull trout and more rare plants than anywhere else in Montana.
Most of the public land is managed by the Flathead National Forest and to a lesser extent by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The map of the Swan Valley has changed dramatically as a result of the Montana Legacy Project. Plum Creek Timber Co. lands that were intermixed in a checkerboard pattern with national and state forest lands, have been consolidated into larger blocks of public lands. See the 2012 map below.
The Swan Valley’s residential and commercial areas, totaling about 30,000 acres, are located around Condon and Salmon Prairie in the Upper Swan Valley, and around Swan Lake at the Valley’s north end. Most home sites are clustered near the highway and along back roads leading into the forest.
Swan Valley Residents
The Swan Valley includes parts of Missoula and Lake counties. We estimate about 1,000 people live here, some as seasonal residents in second homes. Many residents are taking an active role in the stewardship of their forested landscape, with assistance from Swan Ecosystem Center. SEC organizes partnerships and works collaboratively for the sustainable use and care of the Valley’s public and private lands.
The Swan Valley has long been timber dependent, with people working as loggers and log truck drivers and at the lumber mill in Seeley Lake, 25 miles to the south. People also work as elementary school teachers, outfitters, building contractors, and in restaurants, grocery stores and bars.
A large percentage of residents are retirees, who bring many life-long skills to the valley and enjoy volunteering. Several community organizations and committees are active for people who like to make a difference.
Most residents enjoy the rural way of life and seem satisfied to be in a community with minimal services and commercial development.