Weekly Parks Showcase: Lewis and Clark Caverns


This week's focus takes us along the banks of the Jefferson River to Montana's first state park. With some of the most intricate cave networks in the United States, and with over a million limestone formations, Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park is the only show cave in the Northwest. The limestone cave system was created by water and discovered almost 100 years after Lewis and Clark's expedition through the area.

On your way between Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park, Lewis and Clark Caverns offers a wide range of activities from biking to hiking to fishing and cave exploration (not to mention camping!).

Best known for its caverns, the limestone caverns feature stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and helictites.

The limestone was formed by layers of calcium-rich organisms that died in a sea that was present around 325 and 365 million years ago – you can still find oceanic fossils in the cliffs surrounding the trail on your hike to the upper entrance of the caves.


Did you know?

When President Theodore Roosevelt made the caverns a National Monument, he decided to name them after Lewis & Clark as it had been 100 years since the Corps of Discovery had set out on their expedition and there was no federal monument named for them yet.

With approximately 3,105 acres to explore, finding an activity suitable for any age and area of interest isn't difficult at Lewis and Clark Caverns.

✅ Looking for some time in the fresh air? This state park offers 10 miles of trails for hiking and biking.

✅ There are two visitor centers that offer excellent information and you’ll even find concessions.

✅ You’ll find interpretive displays throughout the park to learn more about the park and those who explored it.

✅ Don’t forget to stop at the Montana Gift Corral shop and pick up a souvenir.

✅ Catch an interpretive event hosted throughout the summer months.

✅ Plus so much more!


Caves can only be accessed via guided tours which are only offered May 1 - September 30, but special candlelight tours offered in December will resume in 2019 after the installation of a new lighting system inside the caverns is completed next spring.

The Classic Caverns tour is considered moderate to difficult. And is 2 miles over approximately 2 hours. This tour is great for kids and adults alike. But be prepared: It is a 10% grade uphill to reach the cave entrance and requires the need to duck, waddle, bend and slide (yes, slide!) while on tour. Also be sure to bring a light jacket as the interior to the caves is significantly chillier than outside temperatures.

$12/person, 12 years & older 
$5/child, 6-11 years
Children 5 and under are free

Lewis & Clark Caverns was Montana’s first state park. And while Lewis & Clark didn’t ever venture into the caves, they did travel through Jefferson Canyon on eight dugout canoes on the Jefferson River (which you can see during your hike to the caves).

There are 40 campsites available as well as a tipi and three cabins for rent! There is a group camping site available as well, be sure to contact the park in advance if interested in renting this site.

So - let’s get outside! And in the meantime, help support the boots-on-the-ground work the Foundation is doing at the park in 2019.


How Will the Foundation Help Lewis and Clark Caverns in 2019?

Each year the Foundation chooses a select few projects on-the-ground in Montana State Parks to help make a meaningful and long-term impact.

In 2019, Lewis and Clark Caverns is one such project. The Foundation is helping to make the caverns more accessible to all ages and mobility levels. This will include a shortened, more accessible access point to the caves, improved benches and rest areas on the larger hike, as well as sun shade structures at the lower caves entrance.

If you envision a Lewis and Clark Caverns of today for our future generations, I encourage you to donate today to help ensure that it becomes a reality.

Love the park? Grab a shirt, sweatshirt, or coffee mug of your choice to support Lewis and Clark Caverns.

Weekly Parks Showcase: Wild Horse Island State Park

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This week's focus takes us to Flathead Lake Montana to the (former) home of the world's biggest bighorn sheep. In addition to Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, the island is habitat for more than 100 different birds and mammals, including osprey, bald eagles, mule deer, coyotes, wild horses, and even the occasional bear. The island is managed as a primitive area, making the park experience very exploratory with a true feeling of a wild landscape.

Located on Flathead LakeWild Horse Island is the largest island in a freshwater lake west of Minnesota.

Accessible only by boat, Wild Horse Island has six boat landing sites, but visitors are welcome to pull their boats to shore on any of the public beach sites.

While most of the island is owned by Montana State Parks, be aware as there is still private property on the island; therefore visitors are prohibited from using private boat docks.

Did you know?

Wild Horse Island is said to have been used by the Pend D'Oreille Native Americans who would pasture their horses on the island to prevent them from being stolen by other tribes!

Due to the variety of wildlife, Wild Horse Island does not allow camping, pets or bikes as they may spook the animals. Fires and smoking are prohibited anywhere on the island.

With approximately 2,164 acres to explore, finding an activity and quiet nature viewing isn't difficult at Wild Horse Island.

What can you do at Wild Horse Island? The question is, what can’t you do?! You can:

✅ Take a hike! The island has four miles of interconnected hiking trails, but visitors are free to explore off-trail as well.

✅ Try and catch your dinner! Fishing is allowed with tribal & state fishing licenses.

✅ Check out the wildlife including bighorn sheep, mule deer, songbirds, waterfowl, bald eagles, falcons and wild horses.

✅ Warm day? Take a dip in Flathead Lake!

✅ Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy while you enjoy the views.

✅ Plus so many more!

While you won’t find a full-time park ranger here, each of the six landing sites serves as a trailhead with informational kiosks. In fact, in 2019, the Montana State Parks Foundation is working with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to replace and improve its current informational kiosk system.

Besides the great views and interesting wildlife, you can also find rare, endangered plant life on Wild Horse Island. The island even has a Palouse Prairie ecosystem, one of only three of these biomes in Montana.

And it is because of its unique ecosystem and habitat that is home to so many amazing and unique species, that the Montana State Parks Foundation will be working to eradicate invasive species on the island.

So - let’s get outside! And in the meantime, help support the boots-on-the-ground work the Foundation is doing on the island.

How Will the Foundation Help Wild Horse Island in 2019?

Each year the Foundation chooses a select few projects on-the-ground in Montana State Parks to help make a meaningful and long-term impact.

In 2019, Wild Horse Island is one such project. The Foundation will help fund information kiosk updating, trail maintenance, and invasive weed species management.

If you envision a Wild Horse Island of today for our future generations, I encourage you to donate today to help ensure that it becomes a reality.


Weekly Parks Showcase, Tongue River Reservoir

Your Weekly Showcase of Montana State Parks

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This week's focus takes us to the southeast border of Montana and 10 minutes outside of Decker, MT to Tongue River Reservoir State Park.

Tongue River Reservoir is on the Tongue River, a tributary of the Yellowstone River, approximately 265 miles long, that runs through Montana and Wyoming. The park provides a 12-mile long reservoir set in the truly scenic prairie land of southeastern Montana featuring red shale and juniper canyons.

Due to the rareness of large bodies of water like this in prairie country, the park can see up to 50,000 visitors a year.

Camping? Tongue River Reservoir has 81 reservable campsites with electric hookups, and 27 of those are double occupancy with two electric hook-ups.

There are also 80 non-reservable, non-electric sites! Most sites also have a fire ring and picnic table.

There is an RV dump station and water faucets available during peak season. During the offseason there are 11 sites with electricity, these are first-come, first-served.

Did you know?

Although there are no hiking opportunities at Tongue River, there is hiking available nearby at Rosebud Battlefield State Park or Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument.

Things to do:

✅ Take the boat out on the water! There are two boat ramps with docks, one at Campers Point and one at Pee Wee North.

✅ Go for a swim! Sand Point has a small beach area for swimming.

✅ Keep your eyes open for wildlife! You may just see osprey, blue herons, deer, antelope or bald eagles.

✅ Bring your picnic! The designated day-use area has picnic tables at Campers Point and Sand Point.

✅ Plus so many more!

At 12 miles long, the reservoir makes for excellent fishing any time of year! You’ll find crappie, walleye, bass and northern pike here. You can also fly fish below the dam and there is a fish cleaning station located within the park.

Forgot anything or just need additional supplies? The marina at Campers Point has firewood, ice, fishing and boating supplies, boat rentals, boat and RV storage, bait, groceries, snacks, drinks, gasoline, souvenirs, fishing, and hunting licenses, and non-resident park passes.

While summertime may be the most popular time to visit the park, Tongue River Reservoir State Park also features amazing ice fishing and year-round campsites that support just that.


Four state record fish have been pulled from Tongue River Reservoir State Park, including a 37 pound Northern Pike?

Curious what other visitors have had to say about the park?

"My most favorite places to go camping and fishing."

"Catch Walleye, Pike, Crappie, Bass, Cats, and MORE!"

"Great place to recreate with shore-side camping, most with electrical hookups available."

"Tongue River Reservoir has the best fishing - they have a wide variety of fish to choose from when They hit they hit you hard. Everything from walleye to catfish to a bluegill sunfish, bass, pike, crappie etc."

"I've been going there since I was a kid. My best childhood memories are there, the countless hours spent fishing and water skiing. Also, an amazing place to make friends from all over the country. I hope to give my kids great memories here like my parents did for me!"

Tongue River Reservoir State Park Quick Facts

Park Open Year-Round

Campground Open Year-Round 11 campsites have electricity year round

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Open Year Round

  • 642 Acres

  • ADA Accessible

  • Pets Allowed

  • Toilets (Vault)

  • Water

  • Electricity

  • RV Dump Station

  • Boat Launch

How Does the Foundation Help State Parks Like Tongue River Reservoir State Park?

As Montana State Parks only statewide fundraising partner, the Foundation helps to raise awareness, education, and most importantly support boots-on-the-ground improvement projects for users and supporters like you.

As an agency faced with a $22 million maintenance deficit, our work and collaboration help to ensure continued access and solutions currently inside our state park system.

Because in the end, we envision state parks that reflect Montana's renowned outdoor recreation and heritage for all... forever.

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Other Ways to Support Montana State Parks

A simple way to help Montana State Parks, each and every year, is through our branded Montana license plates. These feature the famous Monte Dollack painting, Placid Lake Sunset, and is an effective way to say "yes" to protecting Montana's public lands by doing what you'd be doing anyway by registering your vehicle.

Weekly Parks Showcase: Makoshika State Park

This week's focus takes us to Glendive, MT to Montana's largest state park. In addition to the pine and juniper studded badlands formations, the park also houses the fossil remains of over ten different types of dinosaurs including Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. The popular Diane Gabriel Trail hike, even offers views of an exposed Hadrosaur fossil embedded in the rugged hillside.

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Established on November 10, 1953, thanks in part to a generous family land donation, Makoshika (Mah-koh-shi-kah) State Park is Montana’s largest state park.

While Makoshika is well known for the dinosaur fossils found (more than ten different species!) throughout the park, Montanans know our largest park is so much more than just fossils.

Did you know?

Makoshika is a variant spelling of the Lakota phrase meaning “bad land” or “land of bad spirits”.

Located just outside Glendive and open year-round, Makoshika is home to about half of the species of birds found in Montana.

Similar to the number of different birds, Makoshika boasts nearly half of the state’s flower species as well.

Popular with locals and tourists alike, Makoshika makes for a great day-trip, overnight stay, or even a multi-day adventure, but don’t worry, you won’t feel crowded!

With 11,538 acres and an elevation of 2,415 feet, finding an activity and solitude isn't difficult in Makoshika!

You can:

✅ Visit the visitors center to see a Triceratops skull and other badlands interpretive displays.

✅ Camp (year-round!) at one of the 28 campsites. Or more of a backpacker? The park is now issuing backcountry permits for overnight trips.

✅ Take a drive along the scenic route through the park (note the road reopens after recent upgrades in 2019).

✅ Check out the Montana Dinosaur Trail and learn more about Montana paleontology.

✅ Go on a bird watching excursion to see how many species you can spot.

✅ Weather erosion means the park’s landscape is ever-changing, creating once in a lifetime views! Take in the beauty of the badlands on a day hike.

✅ Play a round -- or two -- of disk golf at the 18-hole course.

✅ Try your bow and arrow skills at the archery range.

✅ Plus so much more!

Be aware, the weather in the park varies and temperatures can be extreme, so be sure to check the weather before embarking on your Makoshika adventure.

If you happen to plan your trip in June, you’re in for a treat! Buzzard Days festival is held every June and features 10k and 5k races (plus a fun run!), Native American singers and drummers, mini golf, jumping house, food, a frisbee golf tournament, hikes and more!

You’ll also love the other special events hosted at Makoshika throughout the year like Montana Shakespeare in the Park, March for Parks, summer youth programs and many more.

Let’s get outside!

How Does the Foundation Help State Parks Like Makoshika?

As Montana State Parks only statewide fundraising partner, the Foundation helps to raise awareness, education, and most importantly support boots-on-the-ground improvement projects for users and supporters like you. As an agency faced with a $22 million maintenance deficit, our work and collaboration help to ensure continued access and solutions currently inside our state park system.

Because in the end, we envision state parks that reflect Montana's renowned outdoor recreation and heritage for all... forever.

Donate today at:

Weekly Parks Showcase: Black Sandy

This week's focus takes us near Helena, MT to one of Montana's popular fishing and boating sites upriver from Hauser Dam. The park showcases great hiking around the dam as well one of the few public access points to Hauser Reservoir. 

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A popular summer spot located approximately 7 miles outside of Helena and upriver from Hauser Dam, Black Sandy State Park is one of the few public parks on Hauser Reservoir.

Did you know?

On the North side of the lake, you can find black sand! (Hence the name!)

Looking for activities at the park? You won’t be disappointed!

✅ Spend your day on the lake boating, fishing, water skiing or tubing.

✅ Winter? Try your hand at ice fishing!

✅ Take a hike on one of the trails.

✅ Pack a picnic and enjoy the view of the lake.
✅ Take a bike ride to Hauser Dam!

✅ Plus so much more!

There are 29 campsites at Black Sandy and any with electrical hookups can be reserved in advance! Electrical hookups are available May 1 - November 30. Before planning your trip, be sure your trailer is no more than 35 feet. 

Black Sandy State Park also boasts one of the largest Bald Eagle concentrations west of the Mississippi during the month of August.

But don't take it from us - here is what recent visitors had to say (with some park-specific tips just for state park supporters like you).

"We camped on the lake for four days and never ran out of things to do. The swimming, fishing and boating was great. The Lookout Trail hike was a good hike to run the dogs and get a great scenic view of the Missouri River and Hauser Lake."

"This is a beautiful place to camp and fish - go in spring or fall to miss the crowds - lots of boats out in the summer. Fun to fish and camp here."

"It is beautiful !! Besides camping right on the lake, there is fishing, canoeing and a short bike ride to Hauser Lake Dam. Another bonus is that it is located only 7 miles north of Helena."

"We just left after spending 6 days at Black Sandy. Sites 1-11 are first come first serve with 12 & 13 reserved for handicapped and rest of sites are reserved via the website or on phone. "

"We made an RV site reservation 5 months in advance for the Park. I am glad we did. It's very popular. The RV sites are right on the water."

Let’s get outside!

Black Sandy State Park Quick Facts

Open Year-Round

6563 Hauser Dam Road
Helena, MT 59602

Additional Information
May 1-November 30
Electrical Hookups Available

December 1-May 1
Limited Facilities Available

Day Use Area Open Year-Round

  • Open Year-Round

  • 43 Acres

  • ADA Accessible

  • Pets Allowed

  • Toilets (Flush & Vault)

  • Water

  • Maps

  • RV Dump Station

  • Boat Launch

  • Electricity

    How Does the Foundation Help State Parks Like Black Sandy? 

    As Montana State Parks only fundraising partner, the Foundation helps to raise awareness, education, and most importantly support boots-on-the-ground improvement projects for users and supporters like you. As an agency faced with a $22 million maintenance deficit, our work and collaboration help to ensure continued access and solutions currently inside our state park system.

    Because in the end, we envision state parks that reflect Montana's renowned outdoor recreation and heritage for all... forever.

Weekly Parks Showcase: Madison Buffalo Jump

This week's focus takes us near Three Forks, MT to one of Montana's historic Native American sites.  This park highlights not only what was formerly an extensive village, but only one of a handful publicly preserved and accessible buffalo jump sites in North America. 


Located just outside of Logan, Madison Buffalo Jump State Park serves as an incredible monument to early Native American inhabitants.

Did you know?

A significant number of tipi rings have been found here, leading archeologists to believe there was once an extensive village at this site. 

At the top of the cliff, you can still find “eagle pits”` where Native American “runners” would hide. “Runners” -- skilled men trained for speed and endurance -- wore animal skins to lure buffalo to the cliff where they would meet their demise. This was their only means for survival for thousands of years.

Although extensively used for over 2,000 years, when horses were introduced around 1700 the jump was mostly abandoned.

Looking for activities at the park? You won’t be disappointed!

✅ Visit the interpretive pavilion to learn more about the jump which was used for nearly 2,000 years.
✅ Take a hike on the 4 miles of hiking trails.
✅ Packing a picnic? You’ll love the picnic area located near the parking lot.
✅ History buff? Madison Buffalo Jump is a  great stop to learn about local history and culture of Native Americans who utilized the area.
✅ Plus so many more!

While camping is not available at this location, Missouri Headwaters State Park is located only 20 minutes away by car and offers campsites, tipis, and cabins available to the public. 

Unlike other areas near the park, Madison Buffalo Jump was not extensively mined for fertilizer nor has it been deeply surveyed by archeologists, leaving tons of bones and details of the site buried. In fact, graduate students from the University of Montana have used it for archeology studies in recent years.  

Planning a summer visit? Madison Buffalo Jump is a great stop on the way to the Madison River for fishing or floating and Missouri Headwaters State Park is close and also open year-round. 

During the winter, snow is typically sparse at Madison Buffalo Jump making it a great place to hike year-round.

Let’s get outside!

Unlike other areas near the park, Madison Buffalo Jump was not extensively mined for fertilizer nor has it been deeply surveyed by archeologists, leaving tons of bones and details of the site buried. In fact, graduate students from the University of Montana have used it for archeology studies in recent years.  

Planning a summer visit? Madison Buffalo Jump is a great stop on the way to the Madison River for fishing or floating and Missouri Headwaters State Park is close and also open year-round. 

During the winter, snow is typically sparse at Madison Buffalo Jump making it a great place to hike year-round.

Let’s get outside!

Unlike other areas near the park, Madison Buffalo Jump was not extensively mined for fertilizer nor has it been deeply surveyed by archeologists, leaving tons of bones and details of the site buried. In fact, graduate students from the University of Montana have used it for archeology studies in recent years.  

Planning a summer visit? Madison Buffalo Jump is a great stop on the way to the Madison River for fishing or floating and Missouri Headwaters State Park is close and also open year-round. 

During the winter, snow is typically sparse at Madison Buffalo Jump making it a great place to hike year-round.

Let’s get outside!

Make a donation to help protect and preserve Madison Buffalo Jump Today.

More “aaaahhs”: The business case for investing in outdoor recreation

DIANE CONRADI Oct 11, 2018 Updated Oct 15, 2018

I love the “aaaaahh” moment — when you step out of the car door into dappled sunlight, take a deep breath, and hear nothing but the rustle of leaves. I’m kind of addicted. Author Florence Williams calls it a getting a “Nature Fix.”

I often get my “nature fix” on the Whitefish Trail — it’s close to my home, it’s easy and it’s exhilarating. But I could get it on the Cut Bank Trails near Cut Bank, following the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, Dillon’s Selway Park, on an after-work float on the Beaverhead, Great Falls’ River’s Edge Trail on a lunchtime bike ride, or Makoshika State Park, on a weekend campout among the hoodoos and dinosaur fossils of the Montana Badlands.

What do these places share? Outdoor recreation infrastructure — a clunky term that can mean a boat ramp, trail, toilet or a campground. Investments like these make “frontcountry” places easier, safer and more pleasurable to visit.

They also have a great return. Each dollar spent pays back in economic vitality, health and wellness and quality of life.

But we're not keeping up.

Montana state park visitation grows every year, but it has a $23 million maintenance backlog. National parks, with record-breaking visitation, have an eye-popping $12 billion (with a “B”) backlog of maintenance needs, with $18 million in Yellowstone and $153 million in Glacier. The U.S. Forest Service’s maintenance backlog is $4.4 billion.

Meanwhile, Congress has allowed the largest source of funding for outdoor recreation infrastructure, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to expire. That pot of money, funded entirely by royalties from offshore drilling since 1964, should be a predictable source to fix and acquire parks and trails.

But each day that passes without it means nearly $3 million is lost to this country’s treasured parks and trails, to our shared detriment.

Let’s look at some numbers.

Nationally, consumers spend $887 billion every year on outdoor recreation, generating 7.6 million direct jobs, $65.3 billion in federal tax revenue, and $59.2 billion in state and local tax revenue.

In Montana, consumers spent $7.1 billion recreating in Montana, creating 71,000 jobs, $2.2 billion in wages and $286 million in state and local taxes.

Even locally, the Whitefish Trail is estimated to contribute $6.4 million in annual spending by visitors and locals who purchase or rent outdoor gear at local stores and spend money for lodging, eating and shopping. That means 68 additional jobs and $1.9 million in labor income locally.

Quick and easy access to the outdoors is a competitive advantage to growing segments of our economy like the tech sector. With wages 53 percent above the statewide average, businesses need top talent but face stiff competition from places like Seattle and San Francisco. That's why Montana employers tout quality outdoor access as a benefit, especially if a trailhead or boat ramp is a few minutes from the job.

Alongside federal and state investment, we need counties and cities to step up. We need them to realize that outdoor recreation infrastructure is a big part of the economy that funds our schools and roads and hospitals.

Individuals must speak up about creating, protecting and enhancing the outdoor experience.

Those "aaaah moments" matter to all of us. They keep us happier and healthier. And they also keep our economy rolling.

Weekly Parks Showcase Kicks Off with Wayfarers State Park

This week kicks off the start of our weekly showcase where we will introduce you to one of Montana's 55 state parks. Whether it's your first introduction or a re-introduction, you're sure to learn more about Montana's unique outdoor recreation culture and spectacular natural assets. 

Located on the northeast shore of Flathead Lake near Bigfork, you’ll find Wayfarers State Park. This park, while small, has so much to offer.

Did you know?

While close enough to Bigfork to walk, the mature mixed forest of Wayfarers makes it a great place for camping and picnicking.

✅ Take a nature walk on the many walking paths along the rocky lake shore.
✅ Fancy yourself a budding photographer? The cliffs near Wayfarers offer spectacular points for pictures!
✅ Use the boat launch and spend a day boating on the lake.
✅ The shoreline provides a great space for beachgoers.
✅ Spend the day kayaking, canoeing or paddleboarding.
✅ Keep your eyes open for some of the many bird species that live around the lake.
✅ Plus so much more!

Wayfarers has 30 campsites, seven of which are walk-in, tent-only sites. Don’t forget to be sure your RV/trailer is no more than 40 feet. 

One hike-bike campsite with nine tent pads, ideal for cyclists traveling along the Continental Divide route.


Starting in spring and into the late fall, Wayfarers is full of wildflowers.

The best part of Wayfarers State Park?

Its location along the northeastern part of Flathead Lake make it one of the ideal places to watch the sunset over the lake and sink behind the mountains. 

Let’s get outside!

Wayfarers State Park Quick Facts

Open Year-Round

8600 Mt. Hwy 35
Bigfork, MT 59911

Open April to October

Additional Information
Water & Shower House Available 
May To September

Day Use Area Open Year-Round

  • 67 Acres

  • ADA Accessible

  • Pets Allowed

  • Water

  • Toilets (Flush & Vault)

  • Boat Launch and Dock

  • RV Dump Station

  • Firewood for Sale

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Year one for MT State Parks Foundation Director a victory for parks and the people who use and love them.

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Under new leadership, the MT State Parks Foundation has worked hard to enhance and improve the parks that make Montana a great place to live or visit.

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Dear Montana State Parks Supporters,

About a year ago, I was hired to be the first Executive Director of the fledgling Montana State Parks Foundation.  Much credit goes to the original Board of Directors and the Foundation’s first employee, Marne Hayes, of Businesses for Montana Outdoors, for their great work in establishing the Foundation prior to my tenure.  

The Foundation I was brought in to lead and grow was at a turning point in its lifecycle.  Our first two years of existence were focused on bringing the challenges Montana State Parks face to the attention of the public, advocating for better parks, and fighting for more secure state funding.  Those causes remain key tenants of what the Montana State Parks Foundation stands for.

However, the Foundation also needed emphasis areas in which it could build credibility, trust, and momentum among citizens, State Park lovers, State Parks staff, legislators and others.  The Directors of the Foundation and I developed a new strategic plan to guide our organization for the next 5 years. That plan shifted the focus of the Foundation’s efforts and resources toward a more clearly defined mission: The Montana State Parks Foundation raises private support to enhance the visitor experience and build advocates for Montana's state parks and recreation heritage.

Right away we started working to identify and fund parks-based projects that addressed critical needs and improved the quality of Montana’s State Parks.  In my first year as Executive Director we raised money from individual donors, grants, business sponsorships, events and the sale of specialty State Parks license plates.  Then we did exactly what we planned to do, we invested that money back into parks projects including:

  • New visitor information kiosks at Lonepine State Park near Kalispell

  • Park benches, trees, bushes, and native plants for the state’s newest state park, Milltown State Park

  • Trail design and a property boundary survey at Sluice Boxes State Park

  • Trail design and consulting at Makoshika State Park

  • Lending Library and new park benches at Wayfarers State Park

  • Interpretive program equipment at Lonepine State Park

  • Funded a Smith River Ranger Position for 2017

  • Paid for annual property lease at Madison Buffalo Jump State Park

  • Funded the annual meeting of the National Association of State Parks Directors in Missoula, MT in September of 2017

Additionally, we were able to build and improve our Foundation in many important ways. . We developed a sophisticated donor and supporter database and tracking system.  We built a powerful email and social media marketing platform. We developed systems and protocols to manage everything from financial records to volunteer inquiries. We also added a number of tremendously talented and passionate members to our board of directors.  While these types of business structures may not be as exciting as Blackfoot River sinker log benches at a new state park, they are important to the long term viability of the Foundation and thus to our state park system.

In the year to come we plan to accomplish much, much more to enhance the visitor experience and improve Montana’s State Parks.  We’ve been working closely to develop and build strong partnerships with conservation organizations such as the Montana Conservation Corps and the Wild Sheep Foundation;  government partners such as the Montana Office of Outdoor Recreation and the Billings Tourism Business Improvement District; business partners like onX Maps, River Design Group, and Patagonia; and most importantly, people like you who care about public lands and want Montana to have a great state parks system--one that reflects our renowned reputation as the nation’s leader in outdoor recreation and heritage.  

Montana’s State Parks need people like you.  People that are passionate, solutions oriented, and willing to be a part of positive change.  Without your help State Parks will continue to face over $22 million dollars in unmet maintenance, infrastructure, and capacity needs.  While the staff and volunteers at Montana State Parks do a great job keeping the parks operating as smooth as they can, they can’t keep holding it all together with duct tape and bailing wire forever.

So we have a choice.  We can hope and wait for politicians in Helena and Washington D.C. to stop quibbling over partisan differences and do what is right for our public lands and our state.  Or we can step up and meet the problem head on. The Montana State Parks Foundation has been and will continue to do the latter by investing private money into critical improvements and enhancements to our State Parks.  We invite you to join us and be a part of the solution.


Coby R. Gierke

Executive Director

Montana State Parks Foundation

400 W. Broadway Ave Suite 100-424

Missoula, MT 59802

Montana State Parks Foundation By the Numbers

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Sportsman's & Ski House 50th Anniversary Benefits Montana State Parks

By Carol Marino of the Daily Interlake News

Folks turned out in tall order to help an iconic Flathead Valley business celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Sportsman & Ski Haus pulled out all the stops by offering big sales, free food and drink, and special events on two consecutive weekends in June.

But the employee-owned business wasn’t satisfied with just generating foot traffic, it marked the celebration by raising money for the Montana State Parks Foundation, an entirely appropriate beneficiary for a company whose merchandise and mission cater to those who love and live in the great outdoors.

Both Sportsman & Ski Haus Kalispell and Whitefish stores sold commemorative 50th anniversary cups. For a $5 donation, customers could have their cups filled with the beverage of their choice. Together the two locations raised $3,000 for the Parks Foundation.

The Foundation has earmarked the funds for a project in 2019 in conjunction with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to improve the wild sheep habitat improvement on Wild Horse Island. The Foundation also hopes to enlist the help of the Montana Conservation Corps.

Representatives from FWP were on hand at Sportsman during the anniversary celebration, drawing crowds with its display of a Boone & Crockett world record Rocky Mountain bighorn ram skull along with two other top-10 ram skulls from Wild Horse Island State Park on Flathead Lake.

“I thought it was a fantastic idea to host a fundraiser in the Flathead Valley where we could showcase the world record ram skull and the others from Wild Horse Island,” Coby Gierke, executive director of the Parks Foundation said in a press release. “Folks in the Flathead really seem to appreciate their parks and this was a great opportunity to share a great story from a local park with a big audience.”

Discovered on the island in 2016, the rams included a 9-year old that died of natural causes and shattered the previous Boone & Crockett record for horns by nearly seven inches.

The island is well known for its bighorn sheep herds and has played an integral role in the recovery of the bighorns in the Western U.S. and Canada. Through the years, FWP has transplanted its sheep to places where populations have suffered from disease outbreaks and disappearing habitat.

A three-mile loop hike to the top of the island from Skeeko Bay on the island’s northwest side often rewards hikers with a close look at the sheep, which can often be found resting in the shade or cross the wide-ranging Palouse prairie.

Milltown State Park in Missoula celebrated its grand opening June 23. The land at the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers was Montana’s first Superfund site, Gierke said, and now it is its newest state park.

River Design Group of Whitefish was contracted to plan and engineer the streambed restoration process. After they completed that work the business voluntarily contributed $5,000 for the purchase of visitor and landscaping amenities.

WHI Ram.jpg

Brush Lake State Park, a Natural Wonder in Rural Northeast Montana

When most people think about far Northeastern Montana, images of or turquoise blue waters, fresh water reefs, and shrimp are not the images that first come to mind.  Situated just inside the Montana State Line from the busy Bakken oil fields of Northwestern North Dakota, Brush Lake is a natural wonder, recreational hub, and visitor destination all wrapped in one.  

Once the community lake of the Scandinavian Communist party in the early 1900s, this glacially formed lake is now known for its quiet, peaceful settings and the brilliant night skies that make it a certified "dark skies" location.  

Growing up in Eastern Montana, it was not uncommon to see the Aurora Borealis during solar events especially during the fall and winter.  Brush Lake's northern latitude and remote location make it a "stellar" destination for your next stargazing or northern lights viewing adventure.  

Check out Prairie Populists recent article about Brush Lake and learn more about this amazing park in the corner of Northeastern Montana. 

Brush Lake.png

Milltown State Park Now Open to the Public Thanks, in part, to Support from MT State Parks Foundation

The Montana State Parks Foundation recently completed its largest investment in parks to date, raising over $20,000 for Milltown State Park to install benches and trees that the government otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford.

"Third-party fundraising and advocacy groups are common in the national park system, but we didn't have any group supporting our state park system," said Coby Gierke, Executive Director of Montana State Parks Foundation. "Before the Foundation was created a few years ago if you loved parks and wanted to give money to state parks, you literally couldn't do it. There was no organization to accept the money and channel it into projects."

Anchor funders for the Milltown project were onX Maps and River Design Group. "onX is passionate about products and projects that help the public access the outdoors”, said Eric Siegfried, founder of Missoula-based onX. "When the Foundation approached us to help develop Milltown it was a no-brainer. A new park on previously inaccessible land? That's right in our wheelhouse."

Despite the possibilities of new funding streams like this one, funding remains very challenging for all of Montana's 55 state parks. "This is just step one in a long process," said Diane Conradi, founding board member of the Foundation.

"Parks need a whole heckuva lot more dollars than this and the Foundation can't do it all. But what we're doing demonstrates that parks are important enough to donors, to businesses to step up and make a difference. Private dollars and the advocacy that come with that are going to be an important piece of the puzzle moving forward."

You can read more about Milltown State Park in a recent article from Prairie Populist by following the link below. 

You can be a part of important projects like Milltown by making a contribution to the Montana State Parks Foundation.  The first 12 donors to make a contribution of $250 or more will receive a limited edition print of Monte Dolack's Milltown based painting, "A Witness to Change"

"Witness to Change" by Monte Dolack

"Witness to Change" by Monte Dolack

Ackley Lake State Park, a Treasured Recreation Hub in Central MT

Even on a bitter cold, windy but clear January day, a half dozen ice fishing shacks dotted the frozen surface of Ackley Lake this past winter.  The tough conditions and slow fishing were not enough to deter the twenty or so hardy individuals that made their way the State Park for a bit of winter time fun.  

Ackley Lake serves the function of being a great regional resource for recreation and for agricultural irrigation, as it was originally intended for.  In an area surrounded by federal land in the form of National Forests, National Wild Life Refuges, and BLM lands, Central Montana really values their State Parks.  

Prairie Populist recently ran a great article about Ackley Lake and the people who visit the park for a variety of reasons.  Check out the article using the link below and if you find yourself traveling along highway 200 from Great Falls to Lewistown, make sure you find time to make a visit to Ackley Lake State Park.  


Lost Creek State Park Featured in Prairie Populist

Another great feature article in the publication Prairie Populist.  This time they featured Lost Creek State Park.  "A Hidden Gem" is their description of the park. 

Coby Gierke, Executive Director of the Montana State Parks Foundation has been visiting this park with his extended family from Anaconda and Deer Lodge since he was a little kid. 

"Probably the first time I ever put on a pair of snowshoes, I wasn't the most coordinated kid so it took me a while to get used to using them in the deep snow.  It also took me a while to look up and really see the beauty of the cliffs and canyon because I was too busy fussing with my clumsy new footwear" said Gierke.

Whether you make it out in the winter for a brisk trip through the snow or pay a visit in the summer to enjoy the camping, hiking, and the waterfall, Lost Creek State Park is well worth the trip.  We'd love to see your photos of the area posted as comments on our Facebook Page.  https://www.facebook.com/MTStateParksFoundation/

The photo with the most likes will be featured here on our website.


Prairie Populist Launches Summer Long Series Featuring Montana State Parks

Prairie Populist, a Montana based online destination for stories, news, and information about the state, has just launched the first article in a summer long series focused on our diverse system of state parks.  


The first article is about Painted Rocks State Park at the southern end of the Bitterroot Valley in Western Montana.  The article looks at the evolution of the park from a remote, isolated party venue to a family friendly park with a variety of recreational opportunities.  

Well worth a read and maybe enough to inspire a weekend camping trip to the far end of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River.  



Outdoor Recreation a Key Factor in US GDP


On February 14, 2018 the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis released a report outlining the financial contribution outdoor recreation makes to our nation’s Gross Domestic Product. The federal government’s analysis found that outdoor recreation
contributed $373.3 billion, or 2%, to overall GDP in 2016, beating out the contributions of all
mining, including the extraction of gas and oil. For many conservation groups, and Montanans
alike, these findings confirm an existing view held by many that outdoor recreation is a big
business, and it’s here to stay.

The real significance of the report, aside from the financial contribution the industry makes to
the economy, is the seriousness in which the federal government is taking in their analysis of
the industry. According to the Missoulian, this report was the first one not conducted by a
private industry group, such as the Outdoor Industry Association, signaling that Washington
D.C. is beginning to take notice of the growth and potential of the industry. In 2016, the
outdoor recreation industry grew 3.8% in comparison to the overall growth in the economy of
2.8%. In Montana alone, the Outdoor Industry Association estimated that in 2017 the outdoor
recreation industry contributed $7.1 billion in consumer spending, created 71,000 jobs, and
contributes $286 million in state and local tax revenue.

Although these numbers are significant, the idea of placing a dollar amount on a recreational
experience is something Montanans have been hesitant to adopt. Who can blame them?
Generally, studies concerning an area’s financial potential are centered around ideas of energy
or commercial real estate development, not conservation. Imagine arriving at the end of your
float on the Blackfoot River and someone asked you, “How much do you think that experience
was worth?” “Do you think that was a $93.26 Rainbow Trout you caught on Belmont Creek?”
“Would you be interested in subscribing to the Bitterroot River for $49.99 a month?” Sounds
ridiculous, right? These experiences, and their essence, cannot be reduced down to a financial
transaction, and that’s why we protect and defend them even when they aren’t the most
financially viable or profitable of situations.

As a lifelong Montana resident, I’ve had the privilege of enjoying and benefitting from the
exceptional recreational opportunities that are available to my community. Like most
Montanans, my opportunities to recreate are directly tied to the protection, management, and
maintenance of these precious public lands and waterways. If this type of fiscal validation is
what’s needed to get people to understand that our most important export as a state is our
natural world and not our natural resources, fine by me.

By Carter Berminghan, Events, Promotions, and Communications Intern                            Montana State Parks Foundation

Wild Horse Island, Home to World Record Bighorn Ram


February 28, 2018 was a great day for Montana State Parks. The three largest bighorn ram skulls from Montana, including the new world record bighorn, were officially scored in Bozeman.

The record ram lived for 9 years on Wild Horse Island and died of natural causes. The skull and horns were collected by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks staff and taken to the region one headquarters in Kalispell. This is a common practice at Wild Horse Island State Park. The skulls of bighorn rams are often removed by park staff to discourage illegal horn harvesting.

Bighorn sheep have over 2100 wild acres of state park to roam at Wild Horse Island but park managers have less than $15,000 a year to protect and maintain the park.  You might be thinking "wait, what is there to maintain at Wild Horse Island?".  While the island is largely undeveloped, State Park Managers are tasked with a lot of tasks that are critical to maintaining the island in its current state.  

Wild Horse Island is largely covered in shortgrass prairie and mixed conifer forests.  This ecosystem is adapted to fire and relies on natural fire to maintain the botanical balance of forests and prairies on the island.  Wildfire has been suppressed for decades in the western U.S. including on Wild Horse Island.  This creates an imbalance in which Ponderosa Pine trees are continually encroaching on meadows of shortgrass prairie that species like bighorn sheep depend on.  

State Park staff and volunteers remove encroaching Ponderosa Pine trees by hand, a measure needed to maintain the balance on the island of prairie grasses and conifer forests.  This is a time-intensive process for an agency that is consistently understaffed to begin with.  

Park managers must also deal with botanical intruders on the island.  Noxious weeds such as cheatgrass and knapweed wreak havoc on landscapes across western Montana and beyond.  Every year Montana state park staff and volunteers spend weeks manually removing and spraying non-native invasive weeds on Wild Horse Island.  

Additionally, parks staff and volunteers deserve a measure of gratitude from everyone who has had the good fortune of visiting Wild Horse Island.  The staff and volunteers who care for the island are the hard-working folks who clear and maintain the trails, spray invasive weeds, remove encroaching trees, and, of course, maintain the composting toilet on the island.  

Wild Horse Island truly is one of the best parts of the Montana State Parks system.  It's wild, undeveloped characteristics make it a perfect home for wildlife and a great place for us all to enjoy a primitive park experience.  Let's work together to help the great staff and volunteers with Montana State Parks so they can continue to take care of special places like Wild Horse Island.  

World-Class Bighorn Rams Skulls Found on Wildhorse Island

Great article about Wildhorse Island in the Daily Inter Lake newspaper.

Landstrom with Sheep Skull.jpg

It's pretty incredible that so many world-class Bighorn Sheep are living and growing to record sizes on Wildhorse Island State Park. Wildhorse is such a special place and an amazing natural resource. It's truly a jewel of the Montana State Parks system.

We hope this news gets you excited about State Parks and thinking about how you can help ensure parks like Wildhorse Island remain spectacular forever. Your donations are used to protect and preserve state parks for the people who visit and creatures who live in them. 

We are planning to work with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to find homes for these amazing Bighorn Sheep specimens.  We hope that the excitement and interest a new world record Bighorn skull creates will help us raise awareness of the challenges facing Wildhorse Island, the five other Flathead Lake State Parks, and the Montana State Parks system across the state.  

Stay tuned for news about the potential world record Bighorn skull as the official Boone and Crockett Club score is confirmed.