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 habitats.

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 on 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.

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, freshwater 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.

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 just steps 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

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 to the State Park for a bit of wintertime 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 its 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.

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.

“This is a hometown campground” — Generations Connect at Painted Rocks State Park

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 its 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 Bermingham, 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 the 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, park 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.  Its 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.

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.

State park foundation will help fund Makoshika project

By Jason Stuart

Republished with permission from the Glendale Ranger Review. Glendive, MT. Sunday, December 17, 2017.

For the first time in its history, the Montana State Parks Foundation will directly fund the completion of four projects in state parks across Montana, including one in Glendive’s Makoshika State Park in 2018.

On Tuesday, the MSPF announced it has committed to spending $15,000 to improve Makoshika’s Diane Gabriel Trail. The organization will also fund projects at Sluice Boxes, Milltown, and Lone Pine state parks next year.

“This is the first time that our organization will be specifically expending funds for projects in state parks,” said MSPF executive director Coby Gierke. “So we are charting a new course and we are trying to have a direct impact on state parks.”

Gierke – also the first director in the organization’s history, beginning work in August – said he was approached about helping fund a project in Makoshika by park manager Chris Dantic and Region 5 parks manager Doug Habermann. Dantic credited Habermann for coming up with the idea for MSPF to contribute to the Diane Gabriel Trail project.

“It’s an exciting project and it’s our most popular trail,” Dantic said.

He added that Gierke, who is a native of Miles City and has family living in Glendive, was particularly enthusiastic about helping fund a project in Makoshika. “Coby has the roots here in Glendive and Miles City and loves the park, so he definitely wanted a project here,” Dantic said.

Gierke said that besides his family roots in the area, he believed it was very important for the MSPF to make sure to expend some of its resources in a park in Eastern Montana, saying he sees too many statewide organizations seemingly ignore the eastern half of the state.

“I felt it was very important to have a big impact on an important place in Eastern Montana,” Gierke said. “So many statewide organizations spend most of their money, resources, and time in western Montana.”

He added that the MSPF as a whole also felt that as the state’s largest state park and the highest-ranked park in Montana State Park’s internal park rankings, it was a natural fit for them to fund a project in Makoshika.

“We felt that Makoshika is one of the best parks in the state. It’s one of the absolute gems in the state park system,” Gierke said.

With the MSPF funding, Gierke said the plan is to purchase new interpretive panels for the Diane Gabriel Trail. Dantic noted that will also include moving and redesigning the interpretive viewing area for the hadrosaur fossil at the top of the trail. After the interpretive panels, Gierke said the plan is to spend the bulk of the rest of the funding on “rebuilding sections of the trail that are failing,” something Dantic noted it sorely needs.

“It does have a lot of hazardous spots,” Dantic said of the trail. Gierke said that while this is the first time the MSPF has directly contributed to completing state parks projects, the goal is to keep going, and he hopes to fund more projects in Makoshika in the near future.

“Specifically at Makoshika, there are several things we’d like to do,” Gierke said. “We’d like the Diane Gabriel Trail to be the first of a series of trail projects that we complete in Makoshika.”

““Specifically at Makoshika, there are several things we’d like to do. We’d like the Diane Gabriel Trail to be the first of a series of trail projects that we complete in Makoshika.”

— Coby Gierke, Executive Director of Montana State Parks Foundation

There is another major project for Makoshika the MSPF would like to eventually help out with as well – getting a potable water line and a new campground built in the park.

“We would love to help Chris with that water line,” Gierke said.

It’s not something the MSPF can tackle at present, he added, but he said that hopefully at some point the organization can help push that project through to completion as well.

“There’s no match we can offer for it yet, but it is a project we would like to look at getting in on,” Gierke said. “It’s something we’re very interested in, we just can’t find the right funding mechanism to do it right now.”

Reach Jason Stuart at [email protected]