Stewarding the CDT in Montana.
by Sonny Mazzullo
The Montana Wilderness Association takes a community-driven approach to protecting and championing Montana’s public lands, outdoor way of life, and quiet beauty. That approach entails connecting communities, like the student body of Montana State University, to the wild places that make our state so special. Since 1962, MWA has achieved this through its Wilderness Walks program. A few years ago, MWA went a step further and took over CDT Montana, a volunteer trail stewardship program dedicated to maintaining and completing the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.
At 3,100 miles long, the CDT is our nation’s longest mountain trail. Starting at the Mexican border, the trail follows the geographical divide north through New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming, before entering Montana and Idaho just outside Yellowstone National Park. Here the trail continues for another 980 miles to the Canadian border. By engaging volunteers in trail maintenance and construction projects along this portion of the CDT, MWA is improving access and trail conditions in some of Montana’s most treasured landscapes: the Centennials, the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, to name a few.
If you’ve hiked, biked, or ridden any stretch of the CDT between Glacier and Yellowstone over the last three years, chances are you owe one of CDT Montana’s world-class volunteers a high five. Why? Because last year alone, CDT Montana’s 159 volunteers built two miles of new trail, constructed 270 feet of turnpike, and brushed back encroaching vegetation on 25 miles of trail. On a typical project, trail crew volunteers, aided by packers from local Backcountry Horsemen chapters, hike ten miles into the wilderness, set up base camp, and spend the next week digging dirt and hauling rock. Some days the weather is peachy, with blue skies and warm sunshine. Other days you wake up in a frosty tent before spending all day moving earth in the rain and sleet.
Despite the inherent hardships, volunteers come back year after year because the projects are joyful, rewarding experiences that lead to lasting friendships. “Adventures in new places with great people – who wouldn’t want to experience that?” asks Bozemanite Patty Bartholomew, three-time CDT Montana volunteer.
If you’d like to spend a week this summer camped in a beautiful location while building or maintaining wilderness trails, you’ll want to check out CDT Montana’s 2016 volunteer project lineup. There are projects of varying levels of strenuousness, so anyone can join, plus it’s free. For more information or to become a CDT volunteer, visit us at wildmontana.org.
Sonny Mazzullo is the CDT Montana field coordinator for the Montana Wilderness Association.