Montana Discovery Foundation

connecting community and nature through education

07

Dec

Outdoor Explorers are full of creativity! The matches were invited to attend Nature Craft Night, a beloved tradition in Helena. Every year, kids and adults come to the Forest Service office to kick off the season with crafts to decorate their Christmas trees or homes. The Outdoor Explorers spent late November covered in glitter, ink, frosting and [hopefully not] hot glue. The crafts included pine cone gnomes and angels, twig picture frames, cinnamon animal ornaments, tree slice ornaments, Chanukah stars, snowflakes and much more.

Over a dozen volunteers lined the room, armed with glue guns and forest products, and crafted until their hands cramped, while kids took home an overflowing loot bag that mentors and parents likely had to un-glue later from the partially dried creations. ‘Tis the season for celebrating with OEMP!

28

Oct

Outdoor explorers sometimes get to venture indoors when it comes to historic sites on the forest. That was the theme of the day at Charter Oak Mine, the “Outdoor Explorers Mentoring Program” October outing. OEMP is a program of the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization, aiming to get kids and their matches outside and investigating new locations and learning new skills.

Sometimes adults can struggle to connect kids to history, particularly to a lifestyle such as mining. Debbie, our tour guide, calls on kids to “raise your hand if you’re over twelve years old”. As hands go up, she tells them that 12 year olds were already working in the mines – tasked with carrying slop buckets and other such duties. She never fails to insert tidbits about the complete darkness when candles or carbide lamps go out, and the origins of the phrase “canary in the coal mine”. One form of “canaries” was actually the candles miners used, which went out when the oxygen started to fall below safe levels. Miners were given 3 four-hour candles that allowed them to time their shifts appropriately.

Charter Oak was not just a mine, it was an active mill with a chemist’s lab, several housing buildings, a loading dock and more. Most of these buildings still stand and were in operation into the 1980s. The equipment is still around, and the land is publicly owned – ready for anyone to explore. The buildings are locked but the Montana Discovery Foundation conducts tours several times each year.

Since our trip was planned for October, we were thrilled to share in candy and Halloween-themed snacks. Our fire was slow to start but enterprising kids were eager to gather dried grass and twigs to help it grow. The Outdoor Explorers have so many skills already!

10

Aug

We offer year-round programming in schools on topics of nature, conservation, stewardship and natural history. We are happy to come to the classroom or plan a field trip!  If you want a fun lesson but don’t have a topic in mind, view the following document for example programs. We love to do games and crafts to get kids active – contact us today at 495-3718 or rskeldon@fs.fed.us to schedule a program.

Conservation Education – Menu of Programs

09

Aug

The Moose Creek Ranger Station in the Ten Mile drainage west of Helena was constructed early in the 20th Century. Evidence from old maps and records, and a pencil date exposed on a wall during restoration work, indicate that the ranger station was built in 1908. Agency correspondence indicates that the station was fully operating by 1910. Walter Derrick was the ranger in 1911 but by 1919 he had been replaced by D.H. Lewis, who kept this job until 1928 or 1929 when the Moose Creek and McClellan Ranger districts were combined. During the 1930s, Ranger Bert Goodman was in charge of the facility.

The building is very similar to other early Forest Service-built ranger and guard stations in Region 1, such as the Burnt Hollow RS on the neighboring Deerlodge NF. The building was intended to be both economic and functional, with office, kitchen, sleeping and storage space. Site plans dated to 1921 shows a barn and tool shed on the north side of Moose Creek, but nothing except a grassy meadow is found there today. Moose Creek functioned as a guard station and, in the 1930s, served as the access point to a lookout atop Colorado Mountain (which was removed by the Forest Service in the 1960s). Today, the site is comprised of the old ranger station, root cellar and garage.

The Moose Creek RS played a role in the CCC-operated Camp Rimini, located directly across the road in what is now Moose Creek Campground. Camp Rimini (or Camp A-76) was opened on June 11, 1939, during the waning years of the Great Depression. The camp housed from 137-200 young men. They preformed a variety of work on the Helena NF, including campground improvements, road maintenance and fire hazard reduction.

World War II soon led to the closure of Camp Rimini in 1942. It was quickly transformed into an army dog-training facility—or War Dog Reception and Training Center. It accommodated some 235 military personnel and 700-900 dogs of various breeds. The dogs were to be used for the proposed Allied invasion of Nazi Europe through Norway. When these plans were abandoned for an alternative plan to invade through northern France (Normandy), the camp refocused on training dogs and men for Artic Search and Rescue units. Forest Service personnel stationed or working out of Moose Creek RS also indirectly helped in the management of this facility (i.e., laying out dog sledding trails, rescue of lost men, bear control).

The Camp Rimini dog training facility was closed in March of 1944. The Forest Service held a public sale of many of the portable buildings at Camp Rimini. Because ranger district headquarters had been moved to Helena, the old Moose Creek RS was also sold. The building complex (cabin, garage and cellar) had a succession of private owners (who used the cabin under a Special Use Permit authorization) until 1998, when the cabin came back into FS ownership.

In 2001, the Helena National Forest began restoring the old ranger station for use as summer educational facility and winter rental cabin. The facility was opened for public use in the summer of 2005, the Forest Service’s centennial year. The cabin is now available for rent for $50 per night year-round. By checking recreation.gov the public can reserve this and other local cabins, as well as sites across the nation.

08

Aug

OPEN to Elk, Deer, Bear, Moose, Hikers, Bikers, Skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Now we can keep it that way!

For years, local hikers, bikers and skiers used the galaxy of trails on the Spring Hill claim block, located three miles south of Helena encompassing both Grizzly and Oro Fino Gulches with no regard to ownership. These trails are easily accessible from either Oro Fino Gulch Road or Grizzly Gulch Road. Many trail users probably did not know that Spring Hill was for those many years privately owned. Then, a growing concern among some that public use of Spring Hill might end because its owners had decided to sell the land for development led to a secure solution.

Although Spring Hill appears on the map to be a single tract of land comprising 457 acres, it is actually composed of 26 separate patented mining tracts. Nestled within the Helena National Forest on both sides, a few of the patented tracts were actively mined until WW II. Throughout the last half of the 20th century, the possibility existed that Spring Hill could be mined again; however, for a variety of reasons, mining at Spring Hill became less feasible. When mining ended in the late 1940’s, uninvited public use of the trails that crisscross Spring Hill began to increase.

While Helena National Forest officials were long interested in acquiring this land that is enveloped by public lands and is such an important recreation and wildlife corridor, absent the threat of development, there was little impetus to act.

Once owners of Spring Hill decided mining was not an option, they realized that many of their mining properties commanded awesome views of the surrounding countryside, and these tracts might profitably be developed into residential lots. Their conclusion was further buttressed by the fact that expensive and time-consuming compliance with subdivision review by local government might not be required on patented mining lands. For these reasons, it appeared likely that Spring Hill could become a large residential subdivision just inside the boundaries of the national forest.

In February, 2003, the Prickly Pear Land Trust (PPLT) came to the rescue and purchased 457 acres of land at Spring Hill for nearly $500,000 with assistance from a local bank, which helped finance the purchase. Since the Forest Service could not purchase Spring Hill out-right, PPLT sought other partners to help finance the purchase.

Having secured the commitment of two other non-profit groups – the Montana Discovery Foundation (MDF) and the Montana History Foundation (MHF) – to help raise funds to purchase portions of Spring Hill, PPLT decided in 2003 to go forward with the purchase.

Over the course of several years, plans changed as the land exchange possibilities became impossible. Lots of patience, sweat, and hard work along with strong support from Montana’s congressional delegation, however, eventually allowed the Helena National Forest to buy the land with a 301 acres being transferred from PPLT to the HNF in 2006 and the balance in 2009.

Important Facts:

The Spring Hill Claim Block spans both Grizzly Gulch and Orofino Gulch.

It is located less than three miles south of downtown Helena.

It is nearly surrounded by Helena National Forest lands.

It includes the popular Wakina Sky area.

It provides important habitat for deer, elk, moose, bear and other species.

Public ownership now allows the Forest Service to manage the wildland-urban interface, including fire, critical open spaces, and weed reduction.

Trails on the claim block are now incorporated into the South Hills Trails Complex – details are included on South Hills Trail Maps published by the Prickly Pear Land Trust and available at the MDF Gift Shop,  PPLT office or at most local sporting goods outlets.

08

Aug

For many years, the administration of the National Forest system in the west was one of being a custodian. The main access was by pack-string, and solitary rangers and fire lookouts were the primary people in many of the Forests in Montana.

In the era between WWII and the passage of The Wilderness Act of 1964, pressure to use the timber and to build roads for recreation increased to the point where any roadless land was being considered for developed recreation and timber use. During this time, an area of roughly 75,000 acres of undeveloped Forest was designated The Lincoln Back Country. This area comprised the northern half of the Lincoln Ranger District, and was just north of the town of Lincoln. Farther north, this area was bounded by the Bob Marshall Wilderness Shortly after the passage of the Wilderness Act, a survey of the Back Country showed negligible timber values, and unforgiving terrain for road building. These drawbacks to development were offset by an abundance of game and fish, including the majestic grizzly bear. These details supported a citizen-initiated proposal for more formal protection of the Back Country. One important figure in the effort to protect this land was Tom Edwards, a former schoolteacher who had been an outfitter in Ovando for many years.om 1969. he testified before congressional committees and in 1969 gave an eloquent personal testimony on behalf of the Lincoln-Scapegoat:   Into this land of spiritual strength I have been privileged to guide on horseback literally thousands of people-the old, many past 70, the young, the poor, the rich, the great and little people like myself. I have harvested a self-sustaining natural resource of the forest of vast importance. No on word will suffice to explain this resource, but let us call it the “hush” of the land. This hush is infinitely more valuable to me than money or my business . . . With the support of Cecil Garland, Clif Merritt, and some of the Forest Service administration, Congressman Jim Battin introduced a bill to create the Lincoln-Scapegoat Wildernss. Support was garnered by the two powerful Senators from Montana, Lee Metcalf and Mike Mansfield. In 1969 the bill was briefly put on hold because a mandatory minerals survey had not been done. After the completion of the survey in 1971, the newest Wilderness Area in the United States was created.

This Wilderness is important for many reasons, including the fact that it is the first citizen-initiated Wilderness Area to be created by Congress. Without the passion and knowledge of many of Lincoln’s residents, this would not have been possible.

For a more detailed report on the making of the Scapegoat Wilderness, please read the Forest Service History Series’ publication The Lincoln-Scapegoat – the first de facto bill.

08

Aug

In early July, 1806, a party of fourteen men, including Meriwether Lewis learned from the Nez Perce of a low pass on the Lander’s Fork of the Blackfoot River. This was part of the route called “The Road to the Buffalo,” and was used by many tribes to pass to the prairies to hunt bison. Lewis and his party crossed this pass on July 7, 1806 and saw the familiar site of Square Butte from the crest. This crest was later named Lewis & Clark Pass, even though Clark never crossed it.

Records do not show other white men crossing the pass until more than 40 years later when Father Nicolas Point traveled with the Flathead Indians between their traditional lands and the prairies to hunt bison. One interpretation of his journals is that a rock structure on top of the pass is a Celtic cross he planted on the Divide. There is still a debate over this point.

Records do not show other white men crossing the pass until more than 40 years later when Father Nicolas Point traveled with the Flathead Indians between their traditional lands and the prairies to hunt bison. One interpretation of his journals is that a rock structure on top of the pass is a Celtic cross he planted on the Divide. There is still a debate over this point.

During the second half of the 19th century, the Alice Creek drainage and Lewis & Clark Pass were surveyed as a potential route for the transcontinental railroad and a military road to connect the east and west. Governor Stevens of Montana petitioned Congress to use the corridor of the Big Blackfoot for this rail line. In 1863, Lt. John Mullan successfully argued for the current railroad route over Mullan pass in order to avoid heavy snows and having to build multiple tunnels through the mountains.

The Blackfoot corridor and Alice Creek areas were mapped between 1877 and 1911. During this survey, most of the roads and trails were still labeled “Indian Trail” or “Lewis and Clark Trail” and corresponded with earlier maps of the area. Another name was also occasionally used: Road to Lincoln.

In 1865 gold was discovered in Lincoln Gulch and the population boomed, changing the Blackfoot River valley. As the ore played out, settlers turned to homesteading, ranching, outfitting, and logging to survive. Several families developed ranches in the drainage, including the Pattersons, the Kings, and the Lambkins.

In 1920 the Forest Service built the Alice Creek Guard Station near the top of the drainage. The building was sold and moved in 1970 and today only the foundation remains. This area is still popular for camping and hiking with a short, easy 1.5 mile hike to the top of Lewis & Clark Pass. MDF leads a wildflower walk to the Pass every spring at the end of May. Please check the calendar for more details.

To learn more details about the history of this remarkable area, please read Alice Creek/Lewis and Clark Pass: an in-depth history

08

Aug

On July 19, 1805, Lewis & Clark passed through what we now know as the Gates of the Mountains in the Big Belt Mountains, north of Helena. Lewis christened this area because of the towering cliffs lining each side of the river. Once in the canyon, the party was unable to find any site to land and make camp for the boats and the 16 men. Today a plaque is located at Meriwether Picnic site proclaiming that as the location for the camp, but historians who have mapped the route believe Field’s Gulch, a short distance up stream is the more likely location of the camp.

Later in the 19th century, settlers moved into the area and the area was used for mining, river transportation, homesteading, and recreation. By 1873, there were 4 roads into the American Bar area east of the river. Homesteads were also appearing on the west side of the river. In 1867 the Hilger family purchased one of the homesteads and became a prominent family in the area and in Helena. The family ranch was sold in 1920, but repurchased in 1933. Shortly after, the family purchased their first Hereford and began building a renowned cattle herd. The ranch is now owned by Cathy Campbell who raises Shetland Sheep.

The primary change to the river since 1805 is the construction of Holter Dam, about 7 miles north of the northern end of the Gates. This dam raised the river levels approximately 14 feet, covering some of the sights recorded in Lewis’ journal.

Fire has also been an important player in the history of the area. In modern times, Mann Gulch has become a shrine for wildland fire fighters due to the tragic death of 13 men on August 5, 1949. To read more about this event, please take a few minutes to read the following articles:

Just east of the river, the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area at almost 30,000 acres, continues to provide the tradition of primitive recreation among the limestone peaks. Historically, this small Wilderness was accessed by water through Meriwether Picnic Area. After the 2007 Meriwether Fire, the drainage washed out and destroyed most of the exisiting Forest trail. Currently there is no maintained trail to access this area from the river side, but there are several other trailheads around the area. Please consult a recent map or call the Helena Ranger District.

For a more in-depth history of the Gates of the Mountains and this stretch of the Missouri River, please take a few minutes to read Gates of the Mountains: Lewis and Clark’s Passage