Hiking Mount Blackmore - Bozeman's wild backyard

We’re so lucky in Bozeman (MT) to have the Gallatin mountain range as our wild backyard. This is the last unprotected mountain range outside Yellowstone National Park, and it’s home to some high peaks for Montana -- more than 10 mountains over 10,000 feet, including Mount Blackmore at 10,154 feet. Mount Blackmore is one of the peaks visible from Bozeman, one that catches my eye every day.

Hikers heading to Mt. Blackmore. (Photo GYC.)

Hikers heading to Mt. Blackmore. (Photo GYC.)

I organized a hike here with a few goals in mind: to bring people together, learn about the Gallatin Range and hike to the top of Mount Blackmore. The hike filled up quickly because the Bozeman area is growing and we are a community that loves to get outside. We had folks join us from diverse abilities and age ranges from the hardcore mountain biker in her 20’s to the retired couple who continue to hike into their golden years. A few of the hikers were born and raised in Bozeman and some were new to the area. But we all had something to learn about our wild backyard.

These mountains’ wider home is the 3.1 million acre Custer Gallatin National Forest. Though this forest is in sparsely-populated Montana, more than 3 million people visited the Custer Gallatin last year. This is a serious upward spike of people playing in the forest compared to 2 million people in the years 2008 and 2009. Every year more people come here, and every decade we invent new ways to get around further and faster. More people are likely to visit the Custer Gallatin National Forest for an extreme adventure, a walk on a trail to fish or simply hope to see wildlife, which makes our work to protect the Gallatin Range’s solitude and wildness critical.

But this is not something we can or should do alone. We’re doing this with partners, and we’re using the lessons of the recent past. In the 1980s, two unlikely partners, environmentalists and the timber industry, hammered out a deal to prevent logging and road construction in South Cottonwood Canyon. Peter Bennett, our IT person at Greater Yellowstone Coalition, was part of that story and shared it with us mid-way on our hike in Fox Creek Meadow looking up at Mount Blackmore.

In 1984 a section of the forest, South Cottonwood, north of Mount Blackmore, was on the docket to be logged. This area was wild and worth protecting, so a passionate group of people, Concerned Citizens of Cottonwood, worked to save South Cottonwood. Peter described the story as a villain vs. hero scenario with a little twist – the villain and hero sat in the same room and figured out a solution together. Both sides got to know each other and were willing to compromise. It wasn’t easy and required a lot of work, but the Concerned Citizens and the logging industry figured out a solution that worked. Peter reminded us that even when something seems impossible, solutions exist if we are willing to try something new. That’s a great lesson as we think about protecting and managing the Gallatin Range for future generations of outdoor adventurers.

GYC's Peter Bennett (standing) tells the group about how an unlikely coalition of conservationists and loggers protected South Cottonwood in the 1980s. (Photo GYC.)

GYC's Peter Bennett (standing) tells the group about how an unlikely coalition of conservationists and loggers protected South Cottonwood in the 1980s. (Photo GYC.)

We continued hiking to the top of Mount Blackmore on the north side of the mountain. As we approached the summit, the terrain got steeper and our steps slowed. One foot in front of the other, we eventually summited. It was spectacular. The sky was clear and the wind was blowing. We saw the Absaroka Mountains, the Crazy Mountains, the Sphinx in the Madison Range and mountain peaks down to Yellowstone National Park. I looked back down into South Cottonwood with gratitude for our wild backyard. This was a special moment. We got to know each other, we got to know ourselves and we got to know the Gallatin Range a little bit better that afternoon.

Darcie Warden, left, at the summit of Mt. Blackmore with the group of hikers. (Photo GYC.)

Darcie Warden, left, at the summit of Mt. Blackmore with the group of hikers. (Photo GYC.)

The Custer Gallatin National Forest is public land. No matter where you live it is yours and mine. It is ours. If you want to learn more about our wild backyard contact me at dwarden@greateryellowstone.org or call 406-556-2830. Stay informed about public meetings, attend a GYC hosted hike or share with us why you love the Custer Gallatin National Forest.

-- Darcie Warden, Montana Conservation Coordinator

Did you know? In the book Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Persig wrote about South Cottonwood and his walk to the top of Mount Blackmore. This became a part of the campaign to raise national recognition and help protect South Cottonwood.