Mountain High 

My folks roll into Montana this weekend, hopping a train in their Minnesota hometown and heading West on a semi-annual pilgrimage that allows them to reconnect with their boy, explore some fine mountains and secure a respite from caring for their rapidly aging parents. We all get visitors from ”back East” who come looking for a chunk of our highly-esteemed Big Sky Country, so I’m sure you’re familiar with the drill of attempting to find a perfect blend of activities that’ll show your visitors the best of Montana without scaring them off.

It’s a balancing act to accompany them into the awesome wildness of Montana while not kicking their flatlander keisters on a straight-up-the-mountain hike. Montana hosts want to share the grandeur of our home, an unreal beauty that’s endlessly pristine, sunshiny, accessible, mosquito-free, snow-capped, flower-filled and full of endless horizons, towering peaks and majestic meadows. You know, those backyards that we so often take for granted.

So there’s nothing like a flatlander to remind us of the wild splendor of our mountain home, and there’s nothing like a flatlander to subdivide it, clear-cut it, parcel it, mine it or sell it. And while the folks who cut the trees down regularly claim to have as much of an affinity for the wild as those who try to preserve them, we all reach a point at which we feel compelled to preserve that which we hold important.

Take Glacier National Park, for instance. With its highly accessible high country, handy amenities and praiseworthy preservation record, the park’s a perfect place to share with prairie-dwelling visitors. We can confidently bring out-of-state guests to the continent’s headwaters with hopes of scoring them a memorable mountain experience.

But recent statements by the Department of the Interior suggest that historic footpaths, cattle trails, and stagecoach and wagon routes on federal lands may again be opened—even to ATV, four-wheeler and motorcycle traffic.

This is important: I’ve hiked hundreds of miles in Glacier, and come across numerous abandoned paths that along with other trails easily “pre-date” the park. Without a public outcry, these often overgrown trails could eventually become polluted, eroded and otherwise degraded ATV highways. And although Montana officials have yet to comment on this ruling, Colorado’s director of Natural Resources has already supported his state’s residents’ “right” to re-establish these old paths.

Of course most of us will object to blasting additional thoroughfares through the park’s backcountry to augment an already extensive trail network. And most of us won’t be motivated enough to do anything about it. But for a select few looking to engage in the process, there are options.

For instance, Greenpeace ( and Missoula’s Native Forest Protection Alliance ( are training motivated folks from around the country this week at their Bitterroot-based “Endangered Forests, Endangered Freedoms” action camp. The goal of the weeklong action camp is to prepare activists to respond to the White House’s dismantling of environmental protections and removal of public participation from land management decisions. Under the tutelage of high-profile, high-commitment folks like EarthFirst! founder Mike Roselle and long-time Ruckus Society affiliate J.R. Roof, these trainees will learn how to effectively blockade roads, communicate with the media and organize groups of forest activists—all under an overriding commitment to non-violence. Interestingly (and as if on cue), some schmucks with a baseball bat chose to smash the windows of the Sierra Club’s Missoula office last week. This ironic crime does little except bolster the conservationists’ argument that they are more often the victims of “terror” than the “eco-terrorists” they are too often portrayed to be, but of course that’s another story…

More passive options for effecting change include participating in sanctioned methods of input, such as attending public hearings, writing letters and donating cash or time to organizations that represent your vision.

Glacier National Park is currently in the second stage of a process that will determine the role that commercial visitor services will play in the park. The park will accept public comment on its Commercial Services Plan/Draft Environmental Impact Statement through the end of July, and the decisions made in this document will significantly affect the two million Americans and international travelers who visit the park every year. The EIS will affect the next two decades of park management, determining whether commercial guides can lead scuba diving trips or backpacking trips in the park, as well as boat tours on Lake McDonald.

Despite addressing these concerns and others, the current list of commercial services up for review fails to address the need for better coffee in the park, so you can rest assured that I’ll be noting that in my comments. (As it stands, the park’s current blend, Food Services of America’s highly unpopular “water dressed in brown,” fails miserably at cutting the morning haze for alpine starts on summit days.) So be sure to register this (and any other!) comments at:, and be sure to include DCSP/DEIS in your subject line.

Closer to home, McCormick Park is eyeing massive changes that could provide an indoor aquatic facility, a skatepark, improved river access and a cultural arts/community center. There are 29 acres up for grabs, and a critical hub of Missoula’s non-motorized transportation network is at stake, so log on to: or call 721-PARK to register your vision for the park.

Or if you just want to run, run, run, hit the “Celebrate the Swan” 10k, 5k and 1 mile fun runs on June 28 in Condon. Proceeds help purchase critical wildlife corridors, so call the Swan Ecosystem Center (754-3137) and register early.

Or join the Rocky Mountaineers (Ron Pierson, 370-5470) on a June 28 climb up Union Peak in the Swans. The route sounds vague, so be prepared for a challenging day.

Or just stay near town with the New Rocky Mountaineers on June 28, as they bag the 8252’ Lolo Peak Vista Point—a four mile, 2400’ hump through mosquitoes, whitebark pine and, finally, endless fields of beargrass. If the group’s feeling strong, trip leader Bobbi Ewing (251-9486) might continue down to Carlton Lake and then up, up, up the final 1300’ to the snow-covered and highly rewarding summit.

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