This Time, It’s Personal
The future of the Custer Gallatin is up for grabs. Here's why I'm speaking up.
I want you to close your eyes and imagine your favorite spot on the Custer Gallatin National Forest (CGNF), the two-million acre forest that stretches across most of southern Montana. Maybe it’s a seldom-climbed peak in the Crazy Mountains, a deep draw in the Pryors, or the view from the rim of one of the Chalk Buttes. Think of the memories that connect you to that spot - the nights spent under the stars, the days spent lounging by alpine lakes, the alpine starts and long climbs - and how much richer they make your life. Without these wild places and the opportunities they gives us, our lives wouldn’t just be different, they’d be dramatically poorer.
Here’s the thing: right now, we have a chance to help protect these special places.
Soon, the CGNF will release its final forest plan, the document that will guide the long-term future of the forest, which stretches from the Chalk Buttes on Montana’s eastern edge all the way to the Madison Range. The forest plan will codify which areas will be open to motorized use and which won’t; which areas will be designated as new Wilderness, and which won’t; which areas will be managed as backcountry or wildlife management areas, and which won’t.
Before its final decision, the Custer Gallatin is accepting public comments until June 6th. The comment period is our chance to show the CGNF just why it’s so important to continue protecting its wild places, and to expand protection for places that are worthy of it. We all have summits, valleys, rivers, and buttes that mean the most to us, and now’s our chance to tell the CGNF why it needs to protect them.
The future of the Custer Gallatin is personal for me. One of the places I treasure most in the world is Hyalite Canyon, that magical playground right in my Bozeman backyard. Hyalite is where I became an alpinist, in spirit and in practice. I’ve spent countless days ice climbing on the ephemeral frozen waterfalls of Twin Falls and Cleopatra's Needle, skiing around Divide Peak and Maid of the Mist, and trail running on Hyalite Peak and Mount Blackmore.
I have particularly vivid memories of a day that began with a bitterly cold predawn start at the Grotto Falls parking lot. Leaving the lot, we broke trail for two grueling hours, our way lit by headlamps, before we arrived at the base of the famed Winter Dance ice climb. Staring up at 450 feet of a hanging piece of ice and rock, I racked up and began climbing, delicately navigating my way upwards until my partner and I reached the top. The day encapsulated everything I love most about Hyalite - the solitude, the beauty, and the world-class recreation opportunities.
The sunrises and sunsets I have seen from atop the peaks, the bitterly cold mornings seeing my own breath as I approach an ice climb, the sore muscles after a day of running and skiing on Mt. Blackmore - those are the feelings that permeate my entire body.
As an alpinist, I travel all over the world searching for unclimbed peaks in remote places. Although I love this style of adventure and the ability to experience our wild world, the experiences in my own backyard of Hyalite have been some of the most profound and meaningful. The sunrises and sunsets I have seen from atop the peaks, the bitterly cold mornings seeing my own breath as I approach an ice climb, the sore muscles after a day of running and skiing on Mt. Blackmore - those are the feelings that permeate my entire body, and those are the feelings that make me strive to keep Hyalite Canyon a wild and adventurous alpine playground.
Of course, I’m not that only one who feels most at home when I’m immersed in the wilds of Hyalite. I’ve seen the canyon transform from a place frequented in the winter only by diehard climbers and skiers to an easily accessible year-round recreation hotspot for thousands. It has blossomed into a world-class ice climbing destination since climbers worked with the Forest Service and Gallatin County to begin plowing the 13.5-mile road, and it’s also become a place where outdoor recreationists of all levels come to enjoy beauty and solitude.
If Hyalite has changed that much in the last 11 years, how much will it change in the next 30? The Gallatin Forest Partnership, in which MWA is a partner, has recognized the importance of planning for the future of the wild places on the Custer Gallatin, including Hyalite. The Partnership has recommended that the Forest Service designate much of the canyon as a special recreation area, reflecting its status as one of Bozeman’s favorite wild playgrounds.
The Partnership has also recommended that the areas of the canyon within the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area receive additional safeguards to protect high quality recreation experiences, wild character, habitat, and the critical watersheds that supply much of Bozeman’s drinking water. Such protections are vital and long overdue, and I hope you’ll join me in supporting them.
Of course, there’s so much more at stake in the new forest plan than the future of Hyalite. Across southern Montana - from the Crazy Mountains to the Absaroka-Beartooth, from the Pryors to the Tongue River Breaks, from the Madison Range to the Lionhead - we’re nearing decisions that will shape the management of our most special wild places for decades.
The three million acres of peaks, prairies, and canyons that comprise the Custer Gallatin National Forest are the wild heart of southern Montana, and they should be protected. I’m asking you to join me in taking a few minutes to let the Custer Gallatin National Forest know why these places matter to you, and why we should keep them wild.
You can submit your comment here. The last day of the public comment period is June 6th.
- Anne Gilbert Chase is a Bozeman-based mountaineer and climber, as well as an ambassador for Patagonia and Petzl