Giant Springs State Park: Snowmelt to springs
By BECKY LOMAX
The water defines the phrase “clear as glass.”
Giant Springs bubbles up into a pool so transparent that it mesmerizes all who see it. Underwater foliage catches shafts of sunlight, flashing brilliant green. Ducks paddle the surface, their webbed feet visible as if through glass. As the spring burbles over the pool’s lip into the muddy Missouri River, the two waters remain distinct as they flow east.
Giant Springs is the largest springs in the state. It warms the air in the frost of winter and cools it in the sizzle of summer. The mesmerizing water of the springs is the headlining feature in the 675-acre Giant Springs State Park, which manages property on both sides of the Missouri River in Great Falls.
“The beauty of the springs with the river backdrop and the mountains is just gorgeous,” said Jason Pignanelli, manager of Giant Springs State Park. “In winter, the springs create a mist that coats the trees to make ice sculptures. In summer, the green of the pool and trees is striking.”
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Montana’s state parks: 75 years, 54 parks and growing
By KRISTEN INBODY and ERIN MADISON
The Montana State Parks system came into existence 75 years ago on Feb. 23, 1939, when the Montana Legislature passed a law creating the Montana State Parks Commission to conserve “the scenic, historic, archaeological, scientific and recreational resources of the state.”
However, during the first couple of decades of its existence, the commission did little to advance state parks in Montana.
“State Parks in Montana started 75 years ago but it had languished to say the least,” said Ron Holliday, who served as Montana State Parks director from 1976-83. “It was a branch of the Highway Department, and it was truly a stepchild.”
Montana State Parks saw a major expansion when the parks department moved and became part of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, now Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The Lewis and Clark Caverns can be given credit for sparking the passage of the initial legislation to create a state parks commission. The bill was passed after the federal government asked Montana to take over management of the Lewis and Clark Caverns, which President Theodore Roosevelt declared a national monument in 1906.
Want to know more about the parks featured in Kristen and Erin’s story? Explore the interactive map below and click to find out more about these parks: First People’s Buffalo State Park, Lewis and Clark Caverns, Bannack State Park, Madison Buffalo Jump State Park, Makoshika State Park, Milltown State Park, Smith River State Park, Medicine Rocks State Park, Painted Rocks State Park and Rosebud Battlefield State Park.
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Farm to Fork: Chefs support Montana producers, create delicious offers
By CORINNE GARCIA
Photos by LYNN DONALDSON
Like the rest of the country, the farm-to-table concept seems to have taken hold in Montana, and more than ever, restaurants across the state are supporting local producers. Here, several passionate chefs explain why the locavore movement is so important for the Treasure State.
Montana Ale Works, Bozeman: Roth Jordan, chef/co-owner
Eight years ago, when Roth Jordan started chefing at the high-volume Bozeman hotspot Montana Ale Works, local food was only trickling in.
“It started with farmers and ranchers coming to the back door,” Jordan said.
He appreciated their high quality products and would buy as much as he could, but it wasn’t enough to depend on.
So he created a win-win situation: Montana Ale Works loaned a local organic producer $10,000 to buy a root vegetable harvester. The restaurant was paid back in carrots.
“We called it ‘Cash for Carrots,’ ” Jordan said. “It reduced the farm’s manual labor, enabling them to plant an additional seven acres, and we got a steady stream of produce.”
A year later, Montana Ale Works invested in that farm’s greenhouse to get more greens in return.
University of Montana Dining, Missoula: Director Mark LoParco and Chef Patrick Brown
In 2003, a group of University of Montana students created a local food event as a class project. It was so popular that it prompted UM Dining Director Mark LoParco to look into the use of local foods throughout the university. Today, under his guidance and implemented by Executive Chef Patrick Brown, UM has one of the most successful Farm to College programs in the country – a model that other institutional settings are encouraged to use.
“Local for us is the whole state of Montana because of the volume of food we require,” LoParco explains, noting that along with a student population of 15,000, they also feed faculty, staff and visitors. “Out of the $3 million we spend on food, $800,000 is spent in Montana.”
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Blackfeet beader draws inspiration from talented children
By CAROL BRADLEY
Photos by DARRIN SCHREDER
On a typical evening, Jackie Larson Bread and her teenage daughter, Jade, will be working alongside one another in the living room of their Great Falls home – Jackie sewing a string of beads onto a square of smoked buckskin, Jade outlining a geometric horse with oil-based pencils - when all of a sudden, mother will turn to daughter and say “I’m stuck. What do I do with this?”
Chances are that, without the advice of her 16-year-old, Jackie would find a way to muddle through. After 30 years, she has more than mastered the art of beadworking. Her portraits of Blackfeet ancestors and time-honored tribal designs have earned her a pile of awards – more than 90 at last count – and wide renown in Native American art circles.
But probing the artistic instincts of her children is something she likes to do. There’s a bit of calculated wisdom in asking for feedback from Jade and her brother, Paris, 23, who’s studying media arts at the University of Montana. Paris now sees that being asked his opinion has helped him develop a sense of confidence about his own work, a feeling that what he thinks matters.
“Taking something that has no meaning and giving it meaning,” he said, “is what I’ve been taught my whole life.”
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Spirits and brews of the Big Sky
Story and photos by Jessica Lowry
When Clarence John Montgomery returned to his Hilger ranch each evening after a long day working, his family remembers him sitting down in the old farmhouse’s worn kitchen so he could pour himself his favorite drink, a few fingers of Johnnie Walker Red old scotch whiskey and 7UP.
Over the years, Clarence’s hard work raising cattle and growing wheat, oats and barley grew into an expansive agricultural business that included seven ranches, stretching outside from Hilger south to Lewistown and across the Hi-Line and Central Montana.
Until he passed in 2013, his drink of choice remained the same.
What Clarence probably didn’t know is that his business acumen – close ties to the land and love of a well-made drink – would influence the career paths of not just one, but two of his 18 grandchildren.
Today, Evan Bowser, 29, as the owner of Bowser Brewing Company in Great Falls, and his cousin, Ryan Montgomery, 36, as the head of Montgomery Distillery in Missoula, operate businesses pouring finely crafted brews and spirits created from ingredients mostly found in Montana.
To read the entire feature on Montgomery Distillery and Bowser Brewing, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.
Tranquil Retreat: Thompson River Chain of Lakes
By GORDON and CATHIE SULLIVAN
A blanket of early morning fog hung in the air around us as we waited for the loons to wake up. Cathie bobbed quietly in her kayak about 100 feet from me, sipping warm coffee from an insolated mug, all the time her ear fixed toward a tiny island where the loons had built their nest.
There are not many places left in our busy world where the call of loons can still be heard, still relied on like clock work or the return of yesterday’s sun. But in northwest Montana the common loons – with their piercing ruby eyes and tuxedo-like black and white capes – have returned to Lower Thompson Lake every spring in recent memory.
The lake is a part of one Montana’s best kept secrets: The Thompson River Chain of Lakes. Like a brilliant string of emeralds, the lakes thread throughout 3,000 heavily forested acres pressed between the Salish Mountains to the north and the rugged Cabinet Mountains to the south.
Ready, Set, Go!: To the Thompson River Chain of Lakes
This set of 18 lakes can be found along Montana State Highway 2, sitting between Kalispell and Libby. The site includes 83 primitive campsites and 8 group campsites, all of which require a fee for overnight camping. Roads are primitive and not recommended for motor homes and large trailers. However, the 22 developed campsites at Logan State Park, located on Middle Thompson Lake, are suitable for large camping units.
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Horses, trainers at Bitterroot Therapeutic Riding offer more than just time
By BRETT BERNSTEN
Photos by LIDO VIZZUTTI
On their first day in the arena after a long, harsh winter, the horses at Bitterroot Therapeutic Riding carry extra weight. Their bellies bulge from lazy, hay-filled days. Their saddle straps stretch to the outermost notches. But their largest loads, the ones they were carefully selected to burden, sit on top.
Astride a beige mare named Tonah, Abbie Jessop leads the exercise. Despite being born with cerebral palsy and nearly deaf, the 18-year-old Pinesdale resident rides independently.
She steers the patient mare next to a metal rack holding plastic rings. Reaching up with a shaky hand, she spears a ring and drops it onto a nearby cone like a gaucho in training.
Cheers erupt from her two instructors, Ernie Purcelli and Mary Cline. Jessop beams proudly.
“Does she want to keep riding?” Purcelli asks.
Cline relays the message through sign language and receives an immediate response.
“That’s a stupid question Ernie,” Cline said smiling. “She wants to ride like a cowboy.”
The scene marks another successful session at BTR.
For the past 14 years, the nonprofit has provided equine-assisted therapy for the disabled, joining a fast-growing field gaining acceptance from medical authorities. BTR is one of 850 centers around the world, including six others in Montana, certified by the Professional Association for Therapeutic Horsemanship International, or PATH Intl.
While therapeutic horseback riding has roots tracing back to ancient Greece, BTR Program Director Linda Olson said recent scientific studies lend credence to the method’s physical and mental benefits.
At the basic level, Olson explains, horses and humans share a similar stride. Riding stimulates nerve endings, supplying blood to multiple muscle groups in the rhythm and timing of a natural gate.
For Jessop, her cerebral palsy causes her muscles to overcompensate, throwing her off-balance. When she first started attending BTR at the age of 6, she was confined to a wheelchair. Now, after 12 years of regular sessions, Jessop walks unassisted and even helps saddle up before rides.
“She’s relaxed,” said Jessop’s mother, Robyn Warner. “It’s evened her out.”
BTR caters to a group of people with a range of disabilities, from disorders such as autism and Asperger’s syndrome, to physical challenges like muscular dystrophy and paralysis. But more than tangible benefits, the center offers an experience not available in any clinic.
Nestled among hills overlooking the jagged Bitterroot Mountains outside Corvallis, BTR provides a distinct home-on-the-range feel. A pack of farm dogs greet visitors with reckless enthusiasm. The sounds and smell of livestock fill the air. Hawks frolic among the updrafts surging through the valley.
It’s a foray into a tranquil realm where the pleasures of horsemanship soften the daunting realities surrounding disabilities.
BTR was founded in 2000, when two women who had attended a national convention on therapeutic horseback riding suggested forming a center in the covered arena on Linda and Donald Olson’s ranch.
The proposal came out of the blue for the Olsons. Donald runs the oldest bronze foundry in the Northwest, while Linda’s background ranges from fashion modeling in Beverly Hills to becoming one of the first female workers on the Alaska Pipeline.
But being horse lovers with the proper venue, the couple jumped on board. And although she had “no clue” about working with the disabled, Linda spearheaded the operation.
As program director, Olson runs BTR with a personality as bold as the view from her back door. She constantly mixes up the names of her students, and then atones for her mistake with a heartfelt shoulder squeeze or hair mussing.
“I’m the granny,” said Olson, who raised six children of her own. “I’ve seen a lot of these kids grow up around here.”
For the many of BTR’s all-volunteer staff, the job serves as soul-satisfying segue from previous occupations.
“This is the most rewarding work you can do,” said Ernie Purcelli, BTR’s lead instructor.
Purcelli entered the field from the rough and tumble world of competitive horsemanship. He roped in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association for 11 years and was first introduced to the therapeutic side of riding while working as a horse trainer in Illinois. During his initial volunteer sessions, Purcelli experienced breakthroughs that hooked him for life.
“I’ve seen kids speak their first words,” he said. “Their parents were waiting in the stands with tears in their eyes.”
Purcelli joined BTR’s team after moving to Darby in 2003. He has since attained certification from PATH Intl. and has served as BTR’s lead instructor for the past three years.
His commitment is a labor of love. He volunteers up to four days a week at BTR and his lone certification keeps the center accredited.
But whatever soft spots Purcelli might have, once in the arena he reverts to his rodeo roots. There’s no babying in his lessons. If a student makes a mistake or misses a turn, Purcelli urges them to try again.
“I’m not a physical therapist,” he said. “I’m a riding instructor.”
Purcelli sets longterm goals for riders. For Jessop, it’s to show horses. For another girl, it’s to barrel race. This matter-of-fact approach augments the styles of other BTR volunteers.
“It’s sort of a combination between cowboy and mommy,” said Mary Cline, a consultant who specialized in hearing disabilities. “I’m more the nurturing one.”
But no matter how hard the instructors at BTR work together to create a supportive atmosphere, the other half of the staff often steals the show.
With the charm and disposition of a family dog, the 15 or so horses at BTR provide the perfect remedy for their riders.
“They are the most sensitive creatures,” Purcelli said. “It might sound crazy, but a horse can feel a fly on their butt.”
BTR receives all its horses through donation, but typically only one in 20 have the temperance needed to work with the disabled.
“This is very monotonous work for a horse,” said Purcelli. “You need ones that are pretty strong.”
Tonah, a Norwegian Fjord, fits the mold perfectly. As a small draft horse, she can carry heavy loads yet isn’t tall, making it easy to mount and dismount. Moreover, she has the calm, patient demeanor necessary for long days in the arena.
Tonah came to BTR on loan, but Olson said she’s so well suited for the work she’ll probably live out the rest of her days at the center. For Tonah and the rest of the horses, BTR acts as an equine retirement home of sorts, complete with endless attention and appreciation.
Cory Stalling, a 13-year-old boy with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, tries to get as much saddle time as possible.
“He wants to ride a different horse every time,” said Stalling’s mother Chris. “He thinks they’re like sports cars.”
For Sequoia Fitzpatrick the bond reaches deeper. Her autism makes it hard to concentrate, but when riding a horse she focuses on the task at hand.
Fitzpatrick’s mother Jessica said after Sequoia’s first riding session she fell asleep on the car ride home, a rare event for the rambunctious 9-year-old.
“I think it fills her sensory cup,” Fitzpatrick says. “I love it. I just know the peace it brings her.”
That sense of serenity permeates all those involved with BTR. It’s in the eyes of the horses, the words of the instructors and the smiles of the students.
During a break in the day’s riding sessions, Olson takes time to reflect on BTR’s path to success. She sits in her house a short drive down a dirt road from the arena. A wood stove heats a kettle of water in the corner. The snow-capped Bitterroots shine vividly through the living room window.
Despite growing steadily during the past 14 years, Olson says BTR still experiences significant financial hardships plaguing the industry. Although medical professionals are embracing the benefits of therapeutic riding, insurance agencies have yet to come around.
BTR sponsors students through scholarship programs and accepts Medicaid through Home and Community Based Services, but often it’s a struggle to scrape up enough funds.
“It’s usually me with my hand out, writing grants and hitting up my friends,” Olson said, adding with a laugh, “who now have started to run away from me.”
What support BTR does receive, though, comes in waves of selfless generosity. Fellow equestrians donate extra riding gear. Neighbors pitch in around the arena, leading horses and shoveling up waste. Even in tough times, community members give what they can.
Olson leafs through a photo album of BTR over the years. Her eyes light up as she goes from picture to picture, mirroring the elation on the pages. She looks as if she’s reliving the experiences again, journeying back down a path built on kindness and sympathy.
“There’s so much good around,” she said, her voice trailing into reverie. “When people start complaining about the government and this and that, I just can’t get on board.”
She smiles and gazes out the living room window.
“Just look at this,” she said, gesturing toward a scene where craggy peaks tower over a pair of horses grazing on the first grasses of spring. “Just look at what happens up there in the arena.”
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Montana Territory celebrates 150 years
By JESSE ZENTZ
The place we now call Montana faced an uncertain future when it gained territorial status 150 years ago, but what would eventually become known as the Treasure State held great promise in 1864.
Gold was king in bustling mining communities like Bannack and Virginia City, which pulsed with activity; while today’s larger cities were in their infancy or were simply nonexistent.
Vigilantes played the role of judge, jury and executioner. In a span of less than two months bridging 1863 and 1864, the Montana Vigilantes hanged 24 men as they ruthlessly wiped out Bannack Sheriff Henry Plummer’s gang, which killed more than 100 people and robbed countless others.
Agriculture only began to take root in places like the Gallatin Valley in an effort to support the expanding mining communities, but the territory’s isolation and other factors limited growth.
American Indians – Montana’s original residents – felt the initial squeeze of substantial white settlement and delicate treaties were often ignored by many homesteaders or settlers distracted by the thought of striking it rich.
Want to know more about Montana history? Here’s a recommended reading list:
Montana 1864, by Kenneth Egan (due out in September 2014), explores the year Montana became a territory in detail, giving special attention to tribal nations.
Montana: High, Wide, and Handsome, by Joseph Kinsey Howard, is a history book about Montana, but often reads like a novel and provides readers with detailed descriptions and a unique take on this state’s past.
The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology, edited by William Kittredge and Annick Smith, features a compilation of some of the very best writing about Montana, which is home to a surprising number of true literary artists.
Montana Territory and the Civil War, by Ken Robison, introduces readers to many of the people touched by the Civil War who populated Montana, demonstrating the incredible impact the events in the eastern United States had on the territory and state.
Montana: A History of Two Centuries, by Michael P. Malone, Richard B Roeder, William L. Lang, offers a general but comprehensive textbook-style history of Montana.
Territorial Politics and Government in Montana 1864-89, by Clark C. Spence, offers a close look at Montana’s early political landscape that eventually led to statehood in 1889.
Montana: An Uncommon Land, by K. Ross Toole, provides another take on Montana history that’s as enjoyable to read as it is informative.
Still need more about the Montana of 1864? Here’s some other resources:
Montana Historical Society
Founded only a year after Montana became a territory, the Montana Historical Society is an unrivaled historical resource. Located in Helena, the Montana Historical Society Museum is home to an incredible collection of fine art and historical artifacts. You can visit the museum throughout the year. Learn more online at www.MontanaHistoricalSociety.org.
At www.HumantiesMontana.com, you can find information about events happening throughout the state, learn about a variety of grants and resources available, and much more.
Your local library
Montana’s libraries are full of amazing collections about Montana history, and thanks to a great online resource at www.MyMontanaLibrary.com, finding your local library is only a couple mouse clicks away. Most of the books mentioned above are available, along with many others.
To read the entire feature on Montana Territory’s 150th anniversary, find this issue on newsstands now. To read more about Montana all year, subscribe now.