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Trail Updates (3)

- July 3 - 16, 1998 -

Flag flying on Mt. BaldyTownsend to Rogers Pass, Montana • 220kms

This is the third of 9 updates from the trail journals and community halls of the Yellowstone to Yukon Hike - a 2200-mile trek from  Y to Y with more than 50 stops to deliver presentations and talk to the media about the visionary initiative to maintain a system of connected parks and reserves in the wild heart of North America.


It's been 16 days on the trail, or about 330kms, since we last saw sign of grizzly bears along our route just south of Bozeman. But the day before yesterday, high up on the ridges of the Continental Divide south of Highway 200 and west of Wolf Creek, were numerous diggings - areas of loose, dry soil and gravel tilled by the claws of a grizzly bear in search of biscuit root.  Today, after presentations in Missoula, we'll head out along the Divide again, heading north into the Scapegoat Wilderness Area and the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone for the Northern Continental Divide. From a conservation biology perspective, this area represents one of the largest intact habitat islands in the Y2Y system.

If there's one message we can send about the connection we traversed between the Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems, it is one of optimism. In the 16 days it took us to traverse this linkage zone we crossed 25 fence lines, representing the holdings of no more than a dozen landowners, most of them ranchers. And many of them - ranchers like Bryan Hilger from the 10,000 acre Hilger Ranch - have already applied conservation easements to part or all of their land holdings.

MaxineForestry is active in the area, especially in the Big Belts, but even there we have reason to be optimistic. According to US Forest Service Biologist Quinn Carver, many of the areas that are being selectively harvested now are being done so under the condition that existing roads used to access the forestry sites will be restored to their original slope and replanted when these harvests are complete. Our route led us through one of these cuts, and to a wonderful hour-long conversation with Bill Kelly, owner of a sizeable logging operation that is cutting in areas throughout Montana and Idaho. We discussed in detail the Y2Y concept and the potential for logging practices like selective cutting and road restoration in key wildlife movement zones in the Y2Y system. Bill was very supportive of the idea and wants to be kept abreast of theY2Y Initiative.

Perhaps the greatest threat to wildlife movement that we witnessed on the ground in this corridor was roads - old jeep trails and forestry roads abound in the area, especially in the Big Belts - sometimes to the point of making route-finding difficult. Many packs were dropped, maps consulted and heads scratched at the countless road and jeep trail junctions we encountered. Quad and motorbike riders and 4X4 enthusiasts passed us on the tracks and trails at least 10 times. Some stopped long enough to chat. Most of those that did had heard of the Hike and the Y2Y project from the local papers.

Maxine with Bill KellyOff road vehicles are a form of backcountry recreation that is literally exploding in the region and, with their powerful lobbying to open more roads and trails to them, represent one of the greatest threats to wildlife habitat and movement security in the region. The Montana Wilderness Association recently launched a "Quiet Trails Campaign" that attempts to fight the growing number of trails and areas that are being opened to motorized travel.

Another significant issue in the area is a proposed cyanide heap-leach gold mine along the Blackfoot River - 12 miles from the Scapegoat wilderness and the Continental Divide. Thankfully, Canyon Resources, the mining company pushing the project, is finding it difficult to secure financing in light of low ore prices. Contact the Blackfoot Legacy (Box 1148 Lincoln, MT 59639) for more information.

The hot dry weather is a welcome contrast to the wet and snowy squalls that surrounded us in the initial two weeks of the trek. Ironically, getting enough water is one of our more pressing concerns on the trail, not how to get dry. The feet and bodies are holding out well. Webster the dog has become the target of some hungry wood ticks, one infected bite has cleared and healed itself, another has given him a limp on one of his front legs - nothing a couple days rest in Missoula isn't healing though.

Karsten and Bryan HilgerKarsten and Bryan Hilger, lifetime rancher, at Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area. Bryan is one of many ranchers who has already put a conservation easement on part or all of their land holdings.




Ted Kerasote from New York's Sports Afield Magazine joined us for a day on the trail last week. Look for an article on the Y2Y Initiative in the EcoWatch column of Sports Afield's October issue. The Missoulian daily newspaper ran a story on the Hike and Initiative on the front page of the Montana section today (July 16). Interviews with the hikers were also carried on Missoula's local CBS TV station, as well as on National Public Radio. A writer from the Ottawa Citizen has contacted us and likely will be joining along for a segment of the Hike this fall.


Thirty-five people attended the Missoula presentation on a hot summer evening last night. Among the co-presenters that talked about local issues that fit into the Y2Y vision was Dan Kemmis, Director of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West. As a past city mayor and active environmental advocate, Dan and his group are working to cross ideological boundaries in the Rockies to improve land planning and natural resource management. Dan was very excited about the Y2Y project and will likely be a valuable contact for ideas and information about effective approaches toward achieving the Y2Y vision in the Missoulan and Western Montana areas.

Our Townsend presentation was less well attended but led to great indepth discussions with the local National Forest biologist and two rangers that attended. We're finding that many Forest Service employees are working hard on initiatives within their departments that contribute to the Y2Y vision but that, in the face of strong lobbying pressure from Off Road Vehicle and other user groups, are finding it difficult to see many of their projects and ideas to completion. Y2Y could help support many of these agency representatives with.

On the recommendation of the Townsend biologist, the supervising biologist for the entire Helena National Forest came out to meet and talk with us about Y2Y at the Rogers Pass trailhead two days ago. There have been many suggestions about presenting the Y2Y concept to all Montana National Forest biologists and rangers at their winter meetings.

The next update will be in about three weeks from the Whitefish/Kalispell area. We look forward to seeing many of you along our route. Please check our website for photos and our route, email us at or leave a message for us on the cell phone (403) 540-6446.

Finally and importantly, we wish to extend a special thank you to Maxine Achurch, who, due to unforeseen circumstances, is unable to continue with the Y2Y Hike project. Maxine’s contributions and sacrifice has helped make the Y2Y Hike possible.

Karsten Heuer
Webster the dog (hikers)
Justin Thompson (publicist)

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