Worrisome news recently broke with the new U.S. House Rep. Greg Gianforte, from Montana, suggesting the Wilderness Bill be amended to allow bicycles and other questionable uses. He implied the original bill allowed such things. As this paper’s editor, Chris Peterson, pointed out in his fine column last week, Gianforte has a very bad idea and, from this columnist’s point of view, Gianforte is inaccurate in his statement, not to mention the very real dangers bike riders would create for themselves and other legitimate users.
Please let me remind readers that I interrupted my growing journalistic career, sold my home and moved my family from Washington D.C. to help write the Wilderness Bill in the 87th Congress. I came home in debt from what we accomplished, but felt proud and honored to have been a part of it.
To recall facts about how other Montanans feel about the wilderness and to review my qualifications for making judgment, please let me repeat part of a column from the fall of 2014:
Folks not in the “Wilderness Loop” would have been amazed at the celebration of the Wilderness Bill’s 50th anniversary, which was staged by groups, both private and government, at the Flathead Fairgrounds last Saturday. Hundreds of visitors were entertained by exhibits and booths provided by 11 different organizations. The most surprising thing to me were the number of volunteer citizen groups who deliver thousands of hours of work and money taking care of local wilderness assets. Things that belong to all of us.
There are very successful business people who do repair and maintenance and other needed amenities, aided and abetted by many more volunteer, who work with similar groups to maintain and repair trails.
Please forgive a quick review of my “Wilderness” experiences. I have hiked into the Bob on and off trails, parachuted three times into fires, went by packtrain a few times, floated from the South Fork headwaters twice and spent weeks alone building stock fence at Salmon Forks in 1950. I was involved in rescues – one with Strand Helicopter – for a heart attack victim – and one for a hunter that was mauled by a grizzly near Gates Park.
I flew tens of thousands of miles as Fire Patrol on the giant Flathead National Forest in two summers in the 1950s. I was flown to Missoula Hospital from Black Bear Wilderness strip with an injured leg from a parachute jump in 1953.
A few “Bob Memories” are not fun. My crew went to parachute a “serious” fire in Tango Creek near Big Salmon Lake. I spent half an hour studying dangerous terrain before telling the pilots of the C-47, “Back to Missoula. I’m not jumping in there and neither is my crew.” Later in the day, another crew leader asked for permission to go up and hit that fire “that Ostrom couldn’t handle.” He and his men were barely able to escape being burned and all of their equipment, including parachutes, were lost.
Of the many days of my near 90 years of life, “The Bob” hasn’t taken up a lot of time, but no matter how long I may live, “That Wilderness” will be a precious part of me. Part of my heart. Part of my soul. (end 2014 column)
Northwest Montana already has a vast network of forest bike trails. If Greg Gianforte in sincerely interested in seeking another term in Congress, it is my opinion he should devote his efforts to something less controversial and more important than “peddling a bike up to the Chinese Wall.”
G. George Ostrom is an award winning columnist from Kalispell.