I am not quite sure how it all happened, but at the last city council meeting the Mayor announced he was going to be out of town and would not be available for some of the ceremonial duties that fall to him as part of his job. He was looking for volunteers to fill in and the fingers were pointing in every direction at someone else. The other woman on the council has a private catering business so she ended up with cooking the briskets for a competitive bar-b-que at the high school homecoming game. I said I would give the welcome at a small gathering of the Parks in Focus Commission established by the Governor back in February. The Commission is visiting several state parks. Makoshika Park in Glendive is the one farthest east and the largest state park in Montana.
If you walk out my front door, walk to the street and turn left you are on the road that will take you into the Park. The Visitors’ Center is about a half mile from my front door. Over the years I have watched walkers and joggers and bikers and runners and young moms pushing strollers and families and early walking women and hikers and vans from church camps and colleges and school busses and trailers with canoes, bicycles, kayaks, and jeeps attached to the rear end of the camper go past my front door. So I guess I am as aware of the importance of Makoshika State Park to our community and economy as the next person.
According to the website for the commission, the problems surfacing in the State Parks’ system in Montana include a decaying infrastructure at the same time they are faced with chronic understaffing and increased visitations. I suppose that is one of the conundrums of increased advertising and pushing the beauty and vitality of our state parks. “If you advertise, they will come.”
Our Eastern Montana state parks face the additional stigma of not being “the mountains”. Hence there is the dilemma of people coming to Montana to see the rugged Rocky Mountains and the pristine glacial lakes as soon as you cross the state line. The disappointment is palpable sometimes as travelers bemoan the “flat” prairies and the “barren” wide-open spaces.
So how to get beyond that is the key. We can’t bad-mouth the western part of the State of Montana and we don’t want to, but we do need to lift-up, to enhance what is here and that has been happening throughout many years in Makoshika Park.
Dr. R. W. Hiatt was an early day promoter of the park and an amateur paleontologist who wrote to world-renowned scientists, encouraging them to come and see what we had. Locals from the earliest days had been collecting fossils from the region. Curt Meeds, once owner of the Jordan Hotel, was intrigued by the history of the area both recent and ancient. I remember attending a presentation at the hotel where a speaker talked about paleo-Indian anthropology and the discoveries that had been made in Dawson County. Later the BLM did some excavations on an 11,000 year old Buffalo jump in the Belle Prairie area. I hiked out to the site. There are other such sites and excavations throughout Eastern Montana as well.
But to encourage people to come to the area and appreciate the beauty of this place, we who live here have to help them learn how to touch the prairies and feel the heartbeat of the land where you can climb a hill and on a clear day you can see forever. People who visit here for the first time often call it a jewel or a hidden gem. But you have to get out into the Park to experience the richness and wonder of it all.
We encourage tourists and visitors and we do what we can to enhance the experience, but our common goals at every level of society must be to conserve wildlife ecology for those creatures with whom we share this land and to preserve open spaces for the mental well-being of an increasingly congested humanity as well as enhance the economic well-being of the community to which the Park is home. That is Glendive. Our world needs more green spaces and more open spaces for the next generation to grow into — they are a place to dream, to preserve what we have been given, to develop a healthy life.
For many of my 64 years living here in Glendive, Makoshika Park was a back yard playground for residents. The Park was unimproved which didn’t bother us at all. As kids we climbed the hills, sledded and cross-county skied in the park, people had picnics, hiked the hills, set up the archery range and the shooting range as well as enjoyed bonfires and starry nights with telescopes and then a dark drive with your headlights just touching the sagebrush along the edge of the road as you slowly made your way down the switchbacks.
These days the Park has been improved. The Lion’s Youth Camp is a destination place for weddings, church camps and family reunions and every day is booked throughout the summer. The roads are paved where possible and the switchbacks are maintained. There is a good balance of improved and unimproved experiences.The covered picnic area is perfect for larger gatherings and the amphitheater is used for Sunday morning worship, for Shakespeare in the Parks, for private gatherings, all in the wonder and beauty of nature.
The influence of Makoshika Park on the people of the Glendive community is enormous and continually growing. Just knowing you have a place to go to where you have acres of quiet to yourself is a daily gift in a busy world. The Park is increasingly becoming a gift of space to vast numbers of visitors. It has become a boon to the businesses in Glendive as one service builds off another. Young entrepreneurs are finding multiple ways to help us grow and prosper. We are most fortunate to be the home of Makoshika State Park or rather, perhaps it is the Park which discovered us. The land has been here forever. Millions of years of activity with other inhabitants and peoples have happened in this place and we are only a very small blip on the screen of that ancient history.