June 1, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
by Mike Thompson,
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder
This Saturday, we celebrate another critical milestone in the effort to bring 7,800 acres of corporate inholdings into public ownership within the heart of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range.
The expansive indoor riding arena at Wayne and Rena Heaton's Horseshoe Hills Guest Ranch will be stuffed from wall to wall with about 300 raucous supporters of the third annual fundraising banquet held by the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
And, the place will be packed to the rafters with pride.
Because this year's banquet comes on the heels of the Elk Foundation's action in recent days to exercise its option on the purchase of another 523 acres from Plum Creek Timber Company, bringing the total purchase in Phase I of the Blackfoot-Clearwater 50th Anniversary Project to 856 acres. Closing on the Phase I transaction is expected later in June, which will focus the spotlight more directly on Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Lolo National Forest and Plum Creek to complete proposed land exchanges in Phases II and III.
This moment belongs to the local volunteersour local heroesin the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter who started from scratch and in the space of less than two years built one of the most successful projects in the illustrious history of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
In fact, the Blackfoot-Clearwater 50th Anniversary Project has become so successful, and so broadly supported, that it is no longer possible to single out the folks in Seeley Lake who have been the heart and soul of this project without risking an unintended slight to the hundreds of others all across Montana who have worked just as tirelessly and contributed just as generously.
It is the true mark of a deep and lasting gift. One that meets peoples' needs so perfectly that they give of themselves in kind. And, before you know it, the thread to the original giver is lost in a quilt made of patches unforeseen by any one weaver, made by people whose paths would otherwise never cross.
All held together by faith.
The folks who formed the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter began their work with faith that there could be a quilt someday, before there were any patches to show as samples. The support and pledges they attracted from others in those first few months in 1998 and 1999 came from nothing more than the honesty and commitment that donors felt in a handshake.
That's how you start at zero in May of 1998 and get to almost $800,000 raised for the Blackfoot-Clearwater 50th Anniversary Project as of March 2000, including $372,325 from FWP and $10,000 from Five Valleys Land Trust. FWP will bring an additional $127,625 to the Phase I closing in June, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation will make up the narrowing shortfall between the purchase price and private funds raised by the Blackfoot-Clearwater and other banquets before closing.
But, don't talk about a shortfall to the members of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter. They don't know the meaning of the word.
This Saturday's banquet, which is already sold out, will be a celebration in the way these dedicated volunteers know best. They will work hard for wildlife habitat, just as they have in preparation every day this week, hoping that this banquet will be the record breaking fundraiser that cinches all the dollars needed for Phase I.
In addition, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is establishing a Stewardship Fund for the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range. Donations to this fund will allow the Elk Foundation to continue helping FWP and other project partners with out-of-pocket expenses in Phases II and III, as well as maintain and enhance habitat on the Game Range and elsewhere in the immediate vicinity.
So, even if you didn't get your place reserved at the Blackfoot-Clearwater banquet this year, Wayne Heaton would tell you there are still plenty of ways for you to support the 50th Anniversary Project and make a difference for your children and your grandchildren in your own back yard.
Just like Wayne and Rena and the rest of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter. We at FWP salute you, and everyone else who has joined in your cause.