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A Vision for the Future
Perspective from Thomas J. Elpel

      My parents were both native to Montana, and every summer they brought us kids back here to be close to the extended family. For those three months each year we were constantly out hiking, fishing, picnicking, camping, and occasionally floating. There were no real boundaries at that time. Public and private lands flowed seamlessly together through fields, across hills, and down rivers. Montana was a wonderland where it seemed that you could hike or fish or camp just about anywhere and private property was not an issue, as long as you didn't abuse it.

      Our family moved back to Montana full time when I was twelve. In junior high and high school in Bozeman I spent much of my free time out exploring the local farm fields. Through the growing season I learned to identify wild plants and collected edible greens and berries. I practiced my stalking skills on the local deer just for the thrill of watching them. Through the winter I skied those same fields and tracked the deer, rabbits, foxes and skunks where ever they went. But Montana has changed since then.

      The first "No Trespassing" signs were a disconcerting novelty. The first subdivisions on prime farm fields were an even greater shock and an outrage. But that was just the beginning of a shockwave that spread across southwest Montana, sprouting signs and subdivisions up like mushrooms in the strangest of places. It became impossible to predict when or where the next one would pop up.

      But what we have seen so far is just the "tip of the iceberg" compared to what is coming. We can reasonably expect to witness a population explosion across the region from about 100,000 people today to more than a million later this century. While it is true that we cannot turn back the clock to what once was, at least we can give forethought to creating a more desirable future.

      I would like to see the children of all generations have the opportunity to leave the television and video games behind, to get out and explore the natural wonders that surround us. Unfortunately, it is difficult for kids or families to get out when the surrounding wild niches are developed into little ranchettes or locked away behind "No Trespassing" signs. Existing public lands are too far away for easy access after school, and winter snows reduce access even more for non-skiers. What we especially need is access to wild places in the heart of the valleys where people can recreate and enjoy the Montana outdoors at any time of the year.

      The Jefferson River is a great corridor of wildness and the logical choice for an accessible recreational park. The Jefferson River Canoe Trail is our vision to create a better tomorrow for this special part of the world, to insure that the future will be a fun place to live for our children and our children's children.

      It is our goal to purchase open space and recreational easements along this great river, piece by piece as they become available from willing sellers. It is our vision that there will one day be a great network of interconnected recreational areas and natural areas all along the Jefferson River.

      While we have great dreams for the Jefferson River Canoe Trail, we are a fledgling organization, just getting started. If you have the inspiration, time or money to contribute to this Vision, then let's work together! We can be reached at:

JeffersonRiver.org
PO Box 697
Pony, MT 59747
E-mail Contact Page

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