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Game Range
Anniversary project
gaining momentum

Seeley Swan Pathfinder
December 3, 1998
by Mike Thompson

Twenty-five representatives from seven agencies and organizations had just agreed to cooperate in a project that might bring up to 7,800 acres of Plum Creek land into state ownership on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range.

So, it seemed like a good day to try squeezing my Volkswagen van into our garage for the winter.

Sharon and I moved into Missoula this fall. Our newly acquired home includes a quaint, old garage that was built in 1955 by a fine gentlemen who never imagined anybody driving a tall hippie van in Montana. I keep telling people that it's not a hippie van, having been manufactured in 1982, long after hippies quit making love and started making money. However, my physical appearance in the driver's seat does little to dispel the notion.

Slowly, I coaxed the bus onto the elevated wooden floor, watching the garage door overhead for any signs of recoil. I was braced for the worst, but the old, orange monstrosity eased into its shelter without incident or complaint.

The analogy was complete. Like a unique and oversized vehicle approaching a narrow space that wasn't built for it, so too has the Game Range 50th Anniversary Project been lumbering slowly forward and adjusting to fit the diverse needs of numerous cooperating individuals and organizations.

This most recent meeting of cooperators was the toughest test so far. It was the first time that representatives from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Plum Creek Timber Company, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Five Valleys Land Trust, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service all gathered in the same room to commit interest and effort toward consolidating public ownership in the heart of the Game Range.

Common ground tends to shrink as the number of interested parties expands. Thus, it's all the more remarkable that we still have room to maneuver the 50th Anniversary bus. This project is ambitious and complex because so much land is involved. It's going to require participation on the part of many individuals and organizations to move that much land into state ownership.

As a result of this recent meeting, work will now intensify to develop specific project proposals for you review. Public participation is the next significant step that must be taken before land trades or purchases can occur.

The partners agreed on general strategies and schedules for obtaining property appraisals, timber cruises and other preliminary information that will be necessary to develop good proposals. It's also much of the information you'll be asking for when you begin to review the proposals yourselves. Because this "homework" will cost money and time, it was no small relief to hear seven cooperating organizations say, "Yes."

Perhaps Five Valleys Land Trust and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have the greatest investments at stake. They must bet on the outcome. Their work must begin well before project details are negotiated and final decisions are made. It's the only way that a Monte Dolack poster and original artwork can be ready on schedule for a major fundraising effort, and it's the only way that donated funds from Elk Foundation banquets will be available to make land acquisitions, if and when needed.

After our recent meeting, I saw nothing but enthusiasm in the camps of our nonprofit partners. Wayne Heaton, chairman of your local Elk Foundation Chapter, and partner Conrad Rowe left with renewed energy to bring this project home.

Working with these exceptionally able and dedicated volunteers is a privilege for those of us who get paid for working toward the same end. It makes us realize how lucky we are to have such quality individuals who donate their personal time for the public good, and it makes us more determined to shoulder our responsibilities and meet their high standards.

It will be months, or maybe a year or two, before we can close and lock the garage door behind a successful 50th Anniversary project. But, the front tires might have climbed upon the threshold in the past few days. Now we're pulling in the mirrors and steering ahead toward the next major checkpoint. Of course, that would be the grand anniversary celebration on June 12.

If you are interested in learning more about this project, and especially if you feel you might have concerns that should be considered, it is not too early to begin communicating with us. You can write me at 3201 Spurgin Road, Missoula 59804, or phone 406-542-5523. Even if I'm personally unable to answer your question or address your concern, I will be able to direct you to the person(s) who can.

After all, more than any other project I've ever been involved in, this 50th Anniversary Project is yours!

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