HELENA — The Bureau of Reclamation has quietly changed the names of two Canyon Ferry campgrounds that some might find controversial, offensive or racist.
Tape covers the lettering on the signs of former Chinamen’s and Confederate campgrounds at Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
For the time being, the federal agency has renamed them to “Campground 1” and “Campground 2.”
A notice on recreation.gov for the former Chinamen’s Campground says, “The Bureau of Reclamation is changing the name of Chinamen’s Campground. As the agency works to confirm a new and appropriate name for this campground, the campground will be referred to as Campground 1.”
On Wednesday, MTN spoke with more than two dozen campers and Canyon Ferry residents about the changes.
The vast majority did not want to go on the record, but each one disagreed with the name change.
Many people, like Canyon Ferry resident Mel Barber, were also worried the history of the area would be lost.
“I don’t understand it because it’s been Chinamen’s for well, well over 50 years,” said Barber. “They’re the ones that done the first mining there, first hydraulic mining there, and they took a lot of gold out of there over a hundred years ago.”
Chinamen’s Campground was named after Chinaman Cove and Chinaman Gulch. Throughout the 1860s through 1890s there was a substantial Chinese populations mining gold, working and living in the area.
In 1864 a group of former confederate soldiers found gold in the Big Belt Mountains by present day Canyon Ferry. The area drew other Southern sympathizers and the area became known as Confederate Gulch. Confederate Campground was named for the area.
People MTN spoke to also expressed frustration with the government not asking the residents their thoughts on the matter.
“We don’t have a voice in this which is ridiculous,” said Barber. “Absolutely they should have held public comment, but they wouldn't have never listened to us anyway... If they’re changing the name people should be able to vote on it and name it themselves what they feel comfortable with, not with what the government tells us we have to live with.”
The Bureau of Reclamation is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of the Interior. They manage 11 campgrounds at Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
We’ve reached out the Bureau of Reclamation and we will provide an update once they’ve responded to our questions.