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Oct 23 2017

Pitching in on Public Lands

We recently completed our sixth season of volunteer, boots-on-the-ground trail stewardship

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Fifty-eight MWA volunteers compiled 2,217 hours of service on Montana’s public lands this season, improving 26 miles of trails that Montanans love to hike, bike, and ride. 

Volunteer trail crews are a critical component of MWA’s stewardship of the places we’re trying to protect, including places addressed in the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act. 

The majority of our work this season focused on clearing and maintaining sections of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT), thereby improving access to places we value for their solitude, recreation, and enjoyment.  We also preserved historic structures and repaired fence line.

Without the dedicated people who give so much time, muscle, and sweat, our trail stewardship program would not exist. Some of the most dedicated are the Backcountry Horsemen packers who enable us to get into the backcountry, transporting the gear and equipment necessary to do our work. 

No matter if we’re working in smoky heat, wet snow, or under clear skies, volunteer crews always managed to have a great time. 

“It was a memorable, rewarding, and fun experience,” volunteer John Repke reports. “It felt good to give back with some trail work…. Having some really good food in the backcountry and enjoying the fireside chats with the group made it feel like a vacation rather than work.” 

After helping maintain trail in the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness, volunteer Bret Leudke of Whitefish said, “Although there was a lot of hard work, the experience was exceptional. I came away with a sense of accomplishment, pride in the work we did, and a better understanding of the critical piece volunteer support plays in helping to maintain our public lands.” 

For the third summer in a row, MWA and Montana Conservation Corps partnered on sending Blackfeet youth trail crews into the Badger-Two Medicine. The Blackfeet Youth Conservation Corps Crew worked with the Rocky Mountain Ranger District on the CDT, Glacier National Park, and Blackfeet Reservation to steward the Blackfeet’s ancestral landscape. Projects included loon monitoring, fuels reduction, fencing for the Bison initiative, archaeological inventorying, and preparations for North American Indian Days. 

This partnership with MCC exposes Blackfeet youth to career opportunities in conservation and nurtures their connection with the Badger-Two Medicine. 

Another valuable partner in 2017 was the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation. Together, MWA and BMWF organized a trail maintenance project near Hahn Pass, an area that will become designated Wilderness when Congress passes the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act.

Another major accomplishment this summer was wrapping up work in the Granite Butte area of the CDT, just outside of Lincoln. We completed restoration on the Granite Butte Lookout in 2016, and it’s now available to the public as an over-night rental.  This summer MWA led a crew of youth from Montana Academy in moving three miles of the CDT from existing road onto a single-track trail – enhancing the trail experience for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians. 

Moving forward, the stewardship of public lands will remain a high priority for MWA. Our volunteer trail crews will continue work to maintain and complete the CDT in Montana. We’ll also venture into new landscapes that have backlogged trail maintenance projects and are in need of an extra hand. Partners and stakeholders are a pivotal part of this vision, as are, of course, the world-class volunteers who show up every year to work the trails. 

A big thanks to all our partners and volunteers who made such a difference in 2017!

- Sonny Mazzullo, MWA stewardship coordinator