By a recent count, Montana is home to at least thirty-six breweries, which, as of last year, made it the second most per capita of any state. Missoula, alone, has four breweries in addition to two brewpubs, as well as four more breweries just a stone’s throw away in the Bitterroot Valley. As of 2010, Phillipsburg, Montana’s population was a paltry 820, yet the Phillipsburg Brewing Company has been open nearly a year now, and by all accounts is thriving.
It is hard to deny that microbreweries are becoming a part of Montana’s landscape just as much as snowcapped mountains and roughshod cowboys. So it seemed natural this past Wednesday for MWA to host an event in support of its campaign to get the Idaho side of the Great Burn region designated as “recommended Wilderness” at Draught Works, Missoula’s newest brewery. Unlike traditional bars, Draught Works, as well as other Montana breweries, has become a community hotspot. On any given night, you are likely to see a diverse segment of the community that few traditional bars could ever draw. From young parents with kids to retirees to twenty somethings, breweries seem to be places that bring the community together, thus making them the perfect place to reach out to the public. And such was the case this past Wednesday.
Development Officer, Kassia Randzio, and NexGen Wilderness Leaders Program Director, Zack Porter, arrived early to set-up MWA’s booth along with help from volunteer Bob Hopkins and chapter president Bert Lindler. Also, on hand was Beverly Dupree from the Great Burn Study Group, a forty-year-old organization whose sole purpose is to protect the Great Burn region, which stretches from Lolo Pass to Lookout Pass along the Montana-Idaho border. Along with hats, t-shirts, stickers, and brochures, Zack and Kassia brought with them comment cards for thirsty patrons to sign and send to the supervisor of the Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest asking him to designate the Great Burn as recommended Wilderness. The cards also had room for supporters to fill out why they love the Great Burn and answers ranged from “because it’s Wild” to “because quiet spaces are becoming a rare commodity” and “because it is important for our children to experience pristine outdoor activity.”
The Great Burn first got its name following the famous 1910 forest fires that burned an astounding three million acres in three days in western Montana and northern Idaho. Located between US-12 and I-90, along the Idaho-Montana border, the region has remained remote enough to avoid major logging or road building. The Montana side of the Great Burn is closed to motorized use, but the Idaho side is at risk of being opened to off-road vehicles. Currently, the Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forest is in the process of updating its forest plan giving advocates the chance to strengthen protections for the region. Snowmobilers are trying to keep the area open to motorized recreation, but MWA is lobbying for the region to become recommended Wilderness, which would prohibit all forms of motorized recreation, and maintain a wild landscape across the Idaho-Montana border.
Over the course of the night, Zack, Kassia, Bob and Bert canvassed the room talking to just about anyone who walked-in for a drink. While a certain segment of that night’s drinking population came specifically for this “Chug for Charity” event, many others were just there for an after work drink. Even so, the event was wildly successful. Over the course of the three hours, fifty-six people signed and returned the comment cards. After people returned the completed cards to the booth, they were taped up to the wall for passers-by to glance at and read. By the end of the evening, the wall was covered, and it was clear to everyone in attendance how popular this cause had become.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, while many of those in attendance had already fallen in love with the Great Burn and traveled through it many times, others were hearing about the region for the first time. So, while it was certainly nice to hear about all the great trips, moments and experiences that people previously had in the Great Burn, it was also nice to know that this hidden gem would be seeing some first time visitors in the coming months and possibly gain a few more enthusiastic advocates.