Wednesday, Oct. 19, marks the 25th anniversary of Congress’ designation, in 1980, of the 33,000-acre Rattlesnake Wilderness. With the concurrent establishment of the 28,000-acre Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, a combined 61,000 acres of unspoiled terrain starts just four miles north of Missoula and sprawls north from there toward the sacred Salish tribal ground beyond 8,620-foot McLeod Peak. It’s some of the prettiest country in the country, and with eight trailheads within spitting distance of downtown, it’s unprecedentedly accessible.
Through it runs Rattlesnake Creek, Missoula’s municipal watershed, fed by more than 50 small creeks. Some of the upper lakes, many of which are unnamed, were dammed years ago. Many of the peaks are known only by elevation.
Mountain lions live in the Rattlesnake. So do bears, grizzly and black, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, deer, coyotes and moose. If you type the right search terms into Goggle, you’ll find a contemporary report of a 1977 sighting, by an 11-year-old on a horse, in a meadow near the Wilderness, of a Bigfoot-type creature.
From 1976 to 1978, the Rattlesnake was one of eight wilderness areas secured by activists and legislators under the Wilderness Act, which passed Congress in 1974. Since then, only the Lee Metcalf Wilderness has been designated, in 1983. Currently, activists are gearing up to push once again for wilderness designation of the Scotchman Peaks area traversing portions of northwestern Montana and northeastern Idaho.
You could talk all your life about what it is about these places that make them worth protecting, but it would be more effective to just go to them and feel what you feel in wild places. Third best, but still good, you can look at pictures and make plans. That we can help with.
On Wednesday, Oct. 19, Rattlesnake Gardens, at 2501 Rattlesnake Drive, hosts a Rattlesnake Wilderness Bill anniversary celebration and barbeque, starting at 5 p.m.