RMEF Protects a Pair of Aces for Wildlife and Public Access

Land Holdings north of Lolo Creek in western Montana are now forever protected and secured for public use.

RMEF Protects a Pair of Aces for Wildlife and Public Access

On Sept. 9, 1805, as bull elk were just starting to bugle, the Corps of Discovery took a much-needed break as they entered Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. They chose a campsite above a beautiful western tributary. “We called this Creek Travelers rest,” Meriwether Lewis wrote. “It is about 20 yards wide, a fine bold clear running stream ... .” 

These days that winding freestone is known as Lolo Creek, and their campsite is now Traveler’s Rest State Park. From there the Corps headed upstream, where they found a trail worn so wide and deep Lewis labeled it a road in his journal. To the Nez Perce and other tribes, it was the Path to the Buffalo, a route trod for centuries to reach the spectacular bison herds to the east. Along the way, Lewis and Clark crossed several tributaries of Lolo Creek that flow through parcels which, thanks to RMEF and its partners, are now the newest additions to the Lolo National Forest

YT Timber approached RMEF to help place a pair of forest inholdings totaling 1,040 acres north of Lolo Creek into public ownership. The purchase protects critical habitat and migration paths for elk, moose, mule deer and other wildlife. Bear, Camp and Sleeman creeks enliven that land, and native cutthroat, bull trout and mountain whitefish all spawn there. 

Generations of hunters, anglers and other recreationists have enjoyed these lands long open to public access, now forever ensured. This is just the latest chapter of an epic partnership between YT and RMEF that has so far protected and made public more than 32,000 acres of outstanding elk country since 2000. As land prices have skyrocketed, these parcels faced more development pressure than ever and could easily have been subdivided into homesites with million-dollar views of Lolo Peak. 

Patrick Bridegam, project lead for the Forest Service, says having this country as one solid block of public land also preserves the ability to conduct prescribed burns and other critical stewardship work. “These pieces are super important to keep this landscape intact,” Bridegam said. 

RMEF Senior Lands Program Manager Mike Mueller agrees. “We’re in the middle of a 21st century land rush that’s put an urgency on what we do like I’ve never seen before,” he said. “And once again, the Yanke family and YT have come to the rescue to secure vital elk habitat. They waited patiently for more than two years as we gathered Lands and Water Conservation funding and other resources to buy it.”


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