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Trail Updates (4)

- July 17 to Aug 8 -

Maxine Achurch-  at the beginningRogers Pass to East Glacier 280kms

We¹re on schedule and in good form but regrettably, the Y2Y Hike will proceed without Maxine Achurch. Over the past year Maxine¹s involvement and dedication have helped ensure the project¹s success in reaching out to people with the Y2Y message. We thank Maxine for her efforts and contributions.

Karsten Heuer (hiker), Justin Thompson (publicist), and Webster the dog will continue with the project as it treks northwards. Maxine will continue her work with Y2Y educational materials. All but two of the last 16 days on the trail have been through the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall Wilderness Areas, massive areas that collectively constitute the second largest wilderness area in the lower 48 States. The Black-feet Nation (1.5 million acres), Glacier National Park, and surrounding National Forest Lands adjoin these areas and collectively comprise one of the five largest Islands that the Y2Y reserve network proposes to connect.

Much of the Hike's route through these wilderness areas wound through stands of burned forest; white fingers of charred and bleached wood poking out of waving carpets of purple fireweed, the stark beauty spanning entire watersheds. The wildfires of 1988 burned most of the Scapegoat area and portions of 'the Bob'.

To hike through such an open landscape day after day was a poignant lesson in the scale of natural disturbance. With adjoining wild areas to escape to, much of the wildlife that once inhabited the forested landscape was able to flee and now, 10 years later, is beginning to return. A herd of sixty elk and a grizzly bear observed from afar are only some of the more obvious wildlife I observed in and adjacent to the burned areas in the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall areas.

Chinese WallI was in the middle of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, perched below the 13 mile-long and 1500 foot-high Chinese Wall, when the world seemed to center itself for a few short moments. Rising before dawn and hiking to the base of the Wall to photograph the line of light track down its limestone face, I sat and, for the first time since Yellowstone, saw absolutely no trace of man; no clearcuts, no roads, no towns and no agriculture. And as I sat there, theblue dawn turning pink, I looked over the landscape with squinted eyes and shaded binoculars, picked out a grizzly in the distance, hawks overhead, and dreamed of the life that follows the multitude of meadows that stretch like spokes down the mountainside into the green hub of the Sun River. Feeling the urgency of movement creep into my legs, I gathered my equipment together and, in so doing, unearthed an old arrowhead shallowly buried in gravel and scree.

Who had been here before to survey the landscape as I did from this viewpoint? What had they seen? Had the ancient hunter and I shared any common thoughts in a world so similar yet so different?

Two days short of Glacier National Park I crossed out of the Wilderness Areas and into the Badger-Two Medicine drainages. Although National Forest Lands, they are littered with quad and jeep tracks and for years have been the focus of numerous oil and gas exploration proposals. The area, nestled amidst the Bob Marshall, Great Bear and Glacier National Park protected areas, is an anomaly in one of the largest, most beautiful puzzles in the Montana section of the Y2Y system.


The border between the Badger-Two Medicine area and Glacier National Park is divided by Highway 2 and the National Railroad line that bisects the Rockies over Marias Pass. Over the years, numerous grain spills have attracted and killed a host of wildlife. One of the most infamous accounts is that of the grizzly cub that was feeding in the ballast of the rails and was killed instantly by an oncoming train. Distraught and fearless, the sow watched the next train bearing down on her dead offspring, lowered her head and charged.

The paved highway is only two lanes but busy, especially now as a stream of recreational vehicles link favorite getaways on either side of the Rockies.  The lands on each side of the road are assumed to be contiguous habitat for all wildlife, but given the traffic volumes, that assumption is being questioned. A new study, headed by Dr. C. Serveehn, will follow grizzlies that use the area to see if the animals freely cross to either side of the road and railway as their needs dictate. If not, the big reserve island that Y2Y and others consider to be intact will, in fact, be two smaller islands of habitat (Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Great Bear areas to the south, and Glacier Park to the north) separated by the highway corridor.


Media coverage has continued to be good. The Choteau Acantha, a weekly newspaper from the small Rocky Mountain front town, did articles in the weeks before and after the presentation. The articles focused mostly on the implications of Y2Y for ranchers and went a long way in helping to dispel some of the myths about Y2Y. Coverage was also good for our stop in Whitefish and Kalispell. We had an interview on the local Kalispell NBC TV station that aired on the evening news and interviewed with two newspapers, the Whitefish Pilot and the Whitefish Journal.


Presentations in this section and the responses to them have been as diverse as the communities themselves. At our Augusta presentation we were able to pull out, among others, a major rancher/ landowner and outfitter from the area. We learned that there are some historically ingrained and strongly negative views about conservation organizations.

There is also fear and resentment of any kind of intervention in their operations. Convincing these people that Y2Y is not taking the traditional and more adversarial approach to conservation will be a real challenge for the initiative. In Choteau, another town along the front just north of Augusta, we received a very different view from ranchers.

One family, who has ranched in the area and coexisted with grizzly bears for generations, was quite supportive of the initiative. In fact, they had recently applied a conservation easement to 8,000 acres of prime grizzly habitat and seemed happy with the arrangement. We did learn from ranchers, however, that if they are going to coexist with large carnivores on private lands in Y2Y region, timely response by wildlife officials and quick resolution of conflicts will be key.

At East Glacier about 30 people turned out for the presentation in the beautiful and historic Glacier Park Lodge. They included tourists, hotel staff, and locals, as well as a young practitioner of the ancient art of brain tanning hides, who sells his work to the Blackfeet. The next morning he invited us to his cabin in the woods to show us the tanning process and share the passion behind his work.

In Browning, on the Blackfeet reserve, we met with Ira Newbreast the head of Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife. Ira explained that the problem on the reserve is not the lack of grizzlies but in fact the exact opposite. There is an increases in bear conflicts as grizzly populations expand and are beginning to occupy habitat they have not used in decades, going as far out from the mountains as 25 miles into the prairie. However, in talking to people off the reserve, habitat loss is still a very real issue on reserve lands, with pressures on the tribe to develop oil, gas and timber resources along the front.

In Whitefish and Kalispell attendance at the presentations was meager but supportive. At the Whitefish presentation, however, there were a couple of people in attendance from the wise use movement in Montana, a group that is pro development and individual rights. During the presentation they were busily taking notes at the back of the room. By the end, however, our information seemed to have disarmed them as they had little to say except complaints about wild animals making their way into town.

All in all the presentations have gone well and have been as informative for us, if not more so, than for the audiences.

The next update will be from the Crows-nest Pass in Canada. We look forward to seeing many of you along our route.

Karsten Heuer (hiker)
Justin Thompson (publicist)
& Webster the dog

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