Walk the Walk

David Tucker's picture

Wilderness Walks highlight land management opportunities.

We crossed the meadow of wildflowers as lush green grasses fell away below us; along the ridge, a charred pine forest guarded our right flank. I imagined riding my bike through this beautiful country, the steady climb devoid of sharp-angled switchbacks, meaning the downhill would cast an indelible grin across my face. I could almost taste the wind-induced tears of joy.

wildflower meadow

But we weren’t there to ride, or even daydream. We were on a recon mission, scouting a trail in the northeast corner of the Gallatin Range in desperate need of an upgrade. As part of Montana Wilderness Association’s Wilderness Walks, several other hikers and I joined the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and the Wilderness and Recreation Partnership to hike from the West Pine trailhead to North Dry—known locally as Dry Creek—just outside of Livingston. Our leaders showed us proposed trail improvements, explained how to remove noxious weeds like the pervasive houndstongue, and discussed issues facing Wilderness Area management.


As luck would have it, our small crew contained mountain-bike advocates, pro-Wilderness Area hikers, folks who were totally ignorant of any travel issues, and everything in between.

"Motorized travel has no place in Wilderness," offered Robert, an avid hiker whose contagious passion for the Gallatin Crest could sway even the most devout pro-biker. 

"But mechanized isn't motorized," I returned, noting that there were differences between the impact of bikes and motorcycles. 

We debated, agreed to disagree, and vowed to attend meetings and pen op-eds. But we also spent time on a trail none of us had used before. Eventually, a new erosion-proof section would replace the beloved “Beaver Slide,” an 800-foot, almost-vertical segment that on this rainy day was characteristically slick. It would improve access to the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area and was a shining example of how enhancing access can sometimes lead to better protection. Without us knowing it, the walk was subtly achieving its goal by putting people on the ground in an under-utilized area, and showing them what's at stake.

And after the day-long walk, this is what I took away: the public land that surrounds Bozeman is ours and we should start treating it as such. But that means taking responsibility. It means spending a weeknight at a Gallatin Community Collaborative meeting, or a volunteer morning with a Pulaski improving existing trails and building new ones. It also means having an open mind, and realizing that you and your speed-hiking buddies aren’t the only people out there. On the other hand, not every trail is appropriate for the full-faced-helmet-donning gravity fiends.

West Pine Trail

At the very least, do yourself a favor and sign up for a Wilderness Walk. There are dozens throughout the summer all over southwest Montana and the opportunity to get on the land and explore the trails with sometimes-not-so-like-minded people is invaluable.

Wilderness Walks don’t fit into your schedule? There are tons of opportunities to get involved. Here are some great resources:

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