Montana's Roe River Holds A World Record In An Eliminated Category

Typically, the world celebrates natural wonders for their grand scale — the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest — and Guinness World Records is the go-to authority on what is indeed the biggest, longest, and most any other superlative you can think of, in the world. But even Guinness bowed out of naming one category involving a river in Montana, allegedly because of an ongoing fight involving a similar river in Oregon.

With rivers, it seems Guinness just can't win. The longest river in the world, according to Guinness World Records, is the Nile, but some Brazilian scientists have a beef with that determination, claiming the Amazon River is actually 65 miles longer, per National Geographic. Guinness' rebuttal is that it's "more a matter of definition than simple measurement." The same may hold true for Montana's Roe River, which made it into Guinness in 1989, edging out the D River in Oregon.

A class project

Unlike the Nile's impressive designation as the longest river in the world, the Roe River, which didn't even have a name until 1988, holds a more diminutive title. Flowing through Giant Springs State Park in Cascade County, parallel to the much more impressive Missouri River, the Roe River is short. Really short. It averages just 201 feet in length. "The Missouri River is the longest river in the country," Giant Springs State Park ranger Tamara Tollett told NBC Montana in 2019. "Then right next to it, we have the Roe, which is the shortest river in the world." Oregonians dispute this designation.

It was Susie Nardinger's 5th grade class at Lincoln Elementary School in Great Falls, Montana, that got the controversy going back in the fall of 1987, according to the Great Falls Tribune. After naming the body of water for fish eggs (the river flows near a fish hatchery), the students then petitioned the federal government, specifically the Domestic Names Committee of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to officially recognize the river.

A watered-down controversy 

After jumping through various hoops, the determined 5th graders convinced the U.S. government to recognize the river in March 1988 and by April, Guinness had agreed with the kids that the Roe River was indeed the shortest river in the world. Guinness would officially designate it as such in 1989. But while the children celebrated their victory with a party and movie, news of Roe River's new designation unwittingly stoked the flames of civic rivalry. When the chamber of commerce in Lincoln City, Oregon, home of the D River, which had been the previous Guinness title holder as the smallest river in the world, heard the news they were livid, according to a second Great Falls Tribune article from April 1988.

The D River, which flows from Devil's Lake for 440 feet into the Pacific Ocean, had held its title for 20 years and even had a sign celebrating its momentously short status. They questioned the validity of just how short the rival river in Montana was. The row over the Roe continued until Guinness dropped the designation in 2006 to avoid the longstanding headache, according to How Stuff Works. This wasn't the first Guinness record to get dropped, but the others, such as the heaviest pet or most pints of beer consumed in an hour, had more to do with health and proper pet ownership than with geographic disputes, per Guinness Book of Records.