Protecting Special Places in the wildlife-abundant Continental Divide corridor
Along the Wild Divide
We’ve recently sharpened our focus on the Continental Divide corridor, which runs through the Helena National Forest and other special wildlands near Lincoln and Montana's capital. This area is extremely important to present and future wildlife migration, linking vital ecosystems and multiple wildland areas. Our work would help ensure the survival of some of North America’s most iconic animals and sustain the high quality of life in the Helena area.
- Build community-based, collaborative partnerships to create broad and diverse public support for several targeted wildlands along the Continental Divide, stretching from the headwaters of the Little Blackfoot in the south to the 5,000 year-old bison-hunting trail that traverses Alice Creek in the north.
- Ensure clean water for those who live downstream.
- Protect habitat for animals such as lynx, grizzly bear, moose, mountain lion, and the increasingly rare wolverine along the corridor connecting Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. Protecting this area could eventually help grizzly bears migrate between the Crown of the Continent in northern Montana to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in southwestern Montana and central Idaho.
- Preserve wildlands for quiet recreation, horseback riding, and mountain biking and protect designated research areas and historic districts. Safeguard the beautiful vistas and essential ecosystems.
Lewis and Clark Wildlands
From the expansive meadows and thick forests of Helena's South Hills to the wildlife-abundant backcountry around Nevada Mountain, the Helena area attracts a diverse group of enthusiasts. These wildlands are also a strong economic magnet, drawing mountain bikers, anglers, skiers, hikers, trail runners, and others who choose to live in a community close to wilderness.
Also near Helena is the Lewis and Clark Trail National Historic District. Meriwether Lewis followed this trail across the Divide in 1806. The ancient trail is still visible. In fact, Lewis named Gates of the Mountains, the head of a beautiful canyon along the Missouri River, located about 20 miles north of Helena. The canyon lies below the Sleeping Giant, a ridgeline shaped like a sleeping giant when viewed from Helena, that William Clark hiked along during his and Lewis’ voyage. The Sleeping Giant is a Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Area that attracts Helena residents to its nose.
What's at Stake
Between the Helena Valley and Priest Pass is a unique tract of predominantly roadless national forest land characterized by striking granite outcrops. The Helena National Forest overlooked this 5,500-acre wild landscape in its last roadless inventory in 1986. Almost 60,000 acres of lonesome basins, lofty ridges, and grizzly habitat adjoin the Scapegoat Wilderness. The biggest gem on the Continental Divide, however, is the 50,000-acre Nevada Mountain proposed Wilderness.
Of course, at the heart of this campaign is the protection of the habitats and ecosystems that are home to some of our most ecologically important and iconic animals. Home to large elk herds, wolverine, lynx, and grizzly bear, the Nevada Mountain proposed Wilderness is a vast stretch of vital yet vulnerable wildlife habitat. Grizzly bear, wolverine, and elk also find ideal habitat in the wild enclave of the Anaconda Hill Conservation Area. Signs of lynx have repeatedly been found in the Jericho Mountain area, along with those of moose, elk, mountain lion, black bear, and marten. The serene Black Mountain Roadless Area reaches from Ten Mile Creek on the east slope of the Divide to the trails of Helena’s South Hills, offering great habitat for elk, mountain lion, bear, bobcat, and wolf.
It’s not just habitats that are at stake. Helena and small towns in Lewis and Clark County depend on providing their citizens with a quality of life allowing for easy access to quiet wildlands. Outdoor recreation supports 64,000 jobs and generates $5.8 billion in consumer spending in Montana. In Lewis and Clark County, $5,589 (14%) of per capita income can be attributed to the presence of protected public land.
Collaboration in Action
In September 2007, nine southwest Montana outdoor groups representing mountain bikers, hikers, equestrians, and conservationists signed an agreement pledging to work together to achieve a common vision for quiet trails, wilderness, and wildlands along 240 miles of the Continental Divide.
In 2011, the northern portion of the Continental Divide area was refined to cover the Lincoln Ranger District and submitted as an alternative in the pending Blackfoot Travel Plan. Much of the wildlands within the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest are still just proposed wilderness, requiring more work for permanent protection of habitats in jeopardy.
Moving Forward: Continued Collaboration and Advocacy
Since 1958, we’ve been helping communities benefit economically from having permanently protected wilderness areas in their backyard.
After decades of hard work and successful coordination and collaboration, Montana Wilderness Association and its partners are focusing their efforts on the corridor of the Continental Divide set in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. Join us as we put together various broad communities of partners creating consensus-driven proposals for the permanent protection of wildlands in Lewis and Clark County.
In 2013, MWA played an important role in implementing a Helena National Forest portion of the 2005 Lincoln-Rocky Mountain Front Winter Recreation Agreement, a landmark accord that protects large blocks of critical winter habitat for important big game and endangered species adjacent to the Scapegoat Wilderness. MWA engaged Lincoln area snowmobilers, community members, elected officials, and land managers from the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement this community-supported plan.
The Black Mountain Proposed Wilderness/South Hills Quiet Trails & Conservation Area was also the product of community collaboration among the MWA, mountain bikers, horsemen, the U.S. Forest Service, and the timber industry. This collaboration helped ensure the protection of wildlife habitat. It also gave protection to the city of Helena’s watershed.
In 2015, the Helena Ranger District issued a draft Record of Decision for the Divide Travel Plan. Praised as “courageous” by backcountry horsemen and hunters, the proposed plan protects wildlands, restores abused lands, and significantly expands protection of the Continental Divide Trail while providing large tracts for snowmobiling and establishing, at last, a legal system of four-wheeler routes. Montana Wilderness Association and the Montana High Divide Trails Partnership laud the courage it took forest leaders to end 14 years of foot-dragging with this new travel plan. Helena conservationists, mountain bikers, hikers, horseback riders, and backcountry hunters all back the plan, because it resolves decades of shameful neglect and abuse along the Continental Divide near Helena and south of Lincoln.
The success of establishing permanently-protected wildlands in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest will require not only collaboration among various public lands groups but also among individuals pledging support to make this ambitious campaign a reality. Help us ensure that the wildlands in the Helena area will remain wild by giving to MWA today.