Game Range 50th Anniversary and Rocky Mountain Elk Banquet
by Patricia Swan Smith
For the Pathfinder
On June 12th, the Seeley Lake Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) will host its second banquet in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range.
This one day full of activities at the Horseshoe Hills Guest Ranch and on the Game Range will give hundreds of people a chance to share in a lot of fun as well as be a part of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter fund-raiser.
The funds will help with the purchase of 856 acres of valuable wildlife habitat in the heart of the game range currently being leased by the Game Range from Plum Creek. This is part of a long-range goal to acquire over 7,000 acres of Plum Creek land within the Game Range boundaries.
What people won't see are the months and months of planning and organization and the long hours of set up it takes to bring something like this together.
According John Sytsma, banquet committee chairman, the first meeting for this year's Seeley Lake RMEF banquet took place in October of 1998.
Twelve committees were formed just for the planning and organization: Advertising; Auction; Banquet/PR; Business: Development and Corporate Donations; Games; Mat & Framing; Merchandise; Outfitters; Program/Secretary; Tickets; Fish Wildlife & Parks.
All these committees report to Chairman Wayne Heaton and Co-Chair Gary Bender who direct overall planning for the 1999 RMEF Banquet.
About 25 people attended weekly meetings to coordinate everything from prizes for the raffles and games to the coffee wagon that will start serving at 8:30 a.m. and the 500 steak dinners that will be served later that evening.
"It's going to be incredible." Sytsma said. "We've worked really hard for a really good cause. Everyone should have a great time."
Sytsma started by asking for bids from local restaurants to cater the 500 plus meals for helpers and the diners at the main banquet, but unfortunately none of the local businesses could cater a banquet of that size.
But in Kevin, Montana, Sytsma found Ray Christiaens of the Cattlemen's Meat Company. The company will provide diners a choice of ribeye steaks or charbroiled boneless chicken breast, complete with baked potatoes, dinner rolls, salads, and cheese cake.
The Company will not only supply a great meal, they also supply tables, chairs, plates, silverware and napkins. The Kevin crew will set up, cook, serve, tear down and clean up. Now that's complete service!
Pops Restaurant will supply food during the day, and the Double Arrow Resort will proved the bar service.
Over 150 people from the Seeley Swan Valley, Missoula, Kalispell and Lincoln donated time and effort for the organization and set up of the banquet and Game Range celebration.
"There are so many people who have helped with this," Sytsma said. "And Mike Thompson (the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range Wildlife Biologist) has contributed so much, and he is great to work with."
Behind the scene, different committees are responsible for packing and leveling the sand in the arena at the Horseshoe Hills Guest Ranch before the floor assembly is taken care ofto be exact, 188 sheets of 4 foot by 8 foot pieces of plywood, donated by Plum Creek Timber Company, will be put down over the arena sand.
Others will build an auctioneer's stage, set up the centerpieces made with 50 cowboy boots, and set up the silent auction. Along with all of the above, the lighting and electrical hook-ups, providing water for venders and the set up of the sound system will all take place before the public walks into a day full of fun.
Everyone is welcome to take part in the activities during the day, which will also include tours of the Game Range by bus, a horse-drawn wagon and helicopters for those far-sighted and brave folks.
Jack Rich of the Rich Ranch will give one of his great interpretive talks about the elk and their habitat as you enjoy a ride around the perimeters of the Game Range from his horse-drawn wagon.
The games are never ending, and include things like eggs, duck plucking and "pooper" games. WARNING: Hope for the hard-boiled ones. RELAX: No real ducks are used or harmed in any way! CAUTION: The "Pooper" games: There are two different games; use your imagination!
"There are so many great games," Joe Bender said. "Everyone has a chance to win some great prizes. We have a lot of prizes like the Wind River Binoculars and the Wilander Mule Deer framed print that are valued between $300 to $400, and there's so much more."
Bender is the chairman for the Merchandise Committee.
Besides participating in the games, make sure and get your tickets for the raffle featuring either a 10-day fishing/sightseeing trip for four people into the Bob Marshall Wilderness with the Rich Ranch, or an elk hunt for two on the East Moreno Ranch in New Mexico. Tickets are available at High Basin Sports or you can pick one up during the activities on the 12th.
And you don't want to miss the opportunity to see the Eastman's World Record Elk Tour that will be on display. Roger Selner, a former Seeley Lake resident is donating this display for this year's event. The display takes up a 10 foot by 70 foot area with both typical and non-typical elk.
The fun starts at 8:30 a.m. with a coffee wagon. The horse-drawn wagon rides, fair and games, and the Wild Outdoor World for Children begin at 9 a.m.
The food service opens and the first bus tour of the game range begin at 10 a.m.
The Anniversary Ceremony in the Game Range begins at noon and will end at 1 p.m.
At 2 p.m. the games will end and the winners will be posted, the band entertainment will begin and an outside bar will open.
The public tours to the Game Range and the Wild Outdoor World for Children will end at 4 p.m.
The bugling contest (people imitating elk; this is a must see) will be held at 5 p.m..
At 6 p.m., the main banquet begins (you must have advance tickets).
The Seeley Lake Chapter of the RMEF was formed last year, and is called the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter. Its first banquet was held at Lindey's Steak House. The 128 seats available sold out quickly, and they had to turn people down. That banquet netted $33,000, and came in 2nd for a new chapter for raising funds.
The Elk Foundation currently has 110,000 members who through their membership have helped conserve and enhance 2.4 million acres of wildlife habitat across North America since 1984.
The Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is the largest WMA in Montana. The Game Range provides critical year-round habitat for approximately 1,000 elk, 800 to 1,000 mule deer and 600 to 1,000 white-tailed deer.
According to the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area of Montana, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has identified 7,800 acres within the Game Range, currently owned by Plum Creek Timber Company, that are critical winter range for elk and deer. This acreage is constantly being evaluated for its residential and recreational development values, which could reduce the ability to support the wildlife populations.
The RMEF and the Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FW&P), along with many other cooperators, now have the opportunity to bring these 7,800 acres into state ownership through land trades and public acquisition. This is being looked at in three different phases. The first phase is the 856 acres in the heart of the game range, and the subject of the current fund-raiser by the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter of the RMEF.