Give Back: North Central Montana
Join us in supporting local businesses that stand up for public lands and wild places
Partners in Conservation
In north central Montana, it’s easy to say we have it all. The high peaks of the Rocky Mountain Front are prominent to the west, sprawling prairie and breaks country roll to the east, and our island ranges dot the prairies in between. It’s a great place to call home and it’s made even better by the businesses that support us, do their part to protect our public lands, and give us the gear and expertise we rely on to enjoy them safely.
As the coronavirus takes its toll on the economy in Montana, we aim to pay tribute in this series of blog posts to the businesses that help MWA protect public lands and waters across the state and play an important role in our outdoor recreation economy. We encourage you to support these businesses in any way you can – even now that the Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted.
After all, our work would not be possible without these businesses, and we can never thank them enough for everything they do to safeguard our wildlands and make Montana’s quality of life so rich. Their contributions are essential to Montana’s outdoor recreation economy, which supported 71,000 jobs and generates $7.1 billion in consumer spending, $2.2 billion in wages and salaries, and $286 million in state and local tax revenue before the pandemic.
Over the last 40 years, Bighorn Outdoor Specialists has established itself as the go-to place for gearing up for your next adventure. Chris and Beth Leatham took over the shop in 2009, and it has since cemented its place as central Montana’s outdoor hub. Whether you’re planning a weeklong backpacking trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness or a lazy cruise down the Missouri River in an inflatable kayak, Bighorn Outdoor Specialists will have what you need.
Chris prides himself on being a gear aficionado and is happy to offer his advice and expertise about whatever equipment you need for your next adventure. Beth is just as knowledgeable, and more than willing to help get you into the right backpack, kayak, or cozy fleece. Bighorn also has a great rental program to get you kitted out with everything from cross-country skis to snowshoes to stand-up paddleboards and kayaks. No matter what you’re looking for, they can rent you the gear you need.
Bighorn Outdoor Specialists has supported MWA’s Island Range Chapter at numerous events and Chris and Beth have been generous with their time and expertise. They’re committed to helping travelers and residents access central Montana’s public lands safely and responsibly.
You can help support Bighorn Outdoor Specialists by visiting their online store or stopping by to see them in person at 206 5th St. South in downtown Great Falls. The store has cautiously reopened to business, and you’re welcome to stop by.
Dropstone Outfitting was born of the desire to help hikers see the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Co-owned by locals Maggie Carr and Yve Bardwell, Dropstone offers stock-supported backcountry trips and drop camps for wilderness hunting, guided day hikes, and naturalist workshops focusing on wildlife, wildflowers and the backcountry experience. Maggie and Yve both grew up in central Montana with deep connections to the Rocky Mountain Front, and they feel fortunate to be able to share this unique place with others.
In 2013, Yve and Maggie purchased High Country Adventures from Bill and Polly Cunningham and renamed the business Dropstone Outfitting. Since then, Dropstone has led hundreds of trips into the Bob and along the Front. By this time of year, their trips are usually booked solid, but this year, there are several spots available on both backcountry trips and guided day hikes. Dropstone is also offering drop camps to make backcountry travel and camping more comfortable and accessible.
You can visit their website to see available trips or email info@dropstoneoutfitting for more information.
Dropstone Outfitting has supported the Island Range Chapter as sponsors and partners. Both Maggie and Yve are longtime members, and Yve was also a state board member. Dropstone has been a strong supporter of MWA's conservation work along the Rocky Mountain Front and are strong advocates for permanent protection of the Badger-Two Medicine. If you’re looking for a guided trip into the Bob or along the Front, I encourage you to start with Dropstone.
Scott and Deb Brown opened the Base Camp in Helena in 1975. In 1990, they returned to Billings, Scott’s hometown, and opened a second location. The Base Camp’s philosophy is to carry the best in clothing, footwear, gifts, and outdoor equipment, and the staff strives every day to deliver excellent customer service. Buyers and managers work to match specific products to local customer requests to make sure every minute of your outdoor experience is optimal, and The Base Camp’s inventory is carefully chosen for the unique markets in Billings and Helena.
The Base Camp has sponsored the Discover Wild Montana books, hosted Spring Into Summer events, contributed to community partnerships, and wholeheartedly supported MWA’s mission to protect public lands across Montana. If you’re in Helena or Billings, I hope you’ll stop by to support them and grab some great gear.
The Base Camp is also a proud supporter of our online hiking guide, hikewildmontana.org. This online resource helps connect folks to our wild places and provides useful information to inspire all of us to enjoy our public lands. . It also connects people with businesses near many of Montana’s best trails. These businesses are the backbone of local economies, and supporting them means supporting the salespeople, bartenders, and community members who make our state special.
After the great falls of the Missouri, the Mighty Mo slips quietly through central Montana – just as it has since the last ice age – as it heads downstream toward St. Louis and the Mississippi. Tucked away in a deep bend of the river is the historic town of Fort Benton, the birthplace of Montana. There you’ll find charming hotels, quaint eateries, and most importantly, friendly people. One of those friendly folks is Nicolle Fugere, owner of the Missouri River Outfitters.
Missouri River Outfitters is the premier outfitter on the Upper Missouri and the oldest river company in Montana. Nicolle started guiding when she was 19, building her knowledge of the river, local history, and community before eventually deciding to buy the business and make her passion into a lifelong career. MRO is one of the few locally based river outfitters in the Breaks and is committed to utilizing products from some of Montana’s finest food producers, breweries, and gear manufacturers on their guided trips.
Nicolle’s commitment to Fort Benton and the Upper Missouri is deeper than running MRO. She was also an important voice in the protection of the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.
Designated in 2001, the 375,000-acre monument protects outstanding wildlife habitat, tipi rings and rock art, and historic Lewis and Clark campsites. The future of the Breaks was threatened in 2017 when President Trump signed an executive order that put Montana’s storied stretch of the Missouri at grave risk. Shortly thereafter, Congress introduced legislation that would have forever crippled the Antiquities Act, the law that enables the creation of national monuments.
But the monument endured because thousands of people in Fort Benton, and across Montana, stood up and spoke out. Nicolle was one of those people, and we’re forever grateful for her contribution.
I encourage you to support Missouri River Outfitters whether you’re looking for a day trip or guided expedition or need a vehicle shuttle. Nicolle and her team of experienced guides can take you trekking in slot canyons, safely support your float between soaring white cliffs, and provide an unforgettable Montana adventure for you and your family.
Central Montana Field Director
Zach graduated from Montana State University with a degree in both Ecology and Political Science. Since graduation, he has worked on big game habitat improvement, bat conservation, and public land issues. When he isn’t working you can find Zach hiking, fishing, camping with his family, and caving to explore Montana underground.